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A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the United States


  • Arthur A. Stone

    (Stony Brook University)

  • Joseph E. Schwartz

    (Stony Brook University and Columbia University Medical Center)

  • Joan E. Broderick

    (Stony Brook University)

  • Angus Deaton

    (Princeton University)


Psychological well-being (WB) includes a person?s overall appraisal of his or her life (Global WB) and affective state (Hedonic WB), and it is considered a key aspect of the health of individuals and groups. Several cross-sectional studies have documented a relation between Global WB and age. Little is known, however, about the age distribution of Hedonic WB. It may yield a different view of aging because it is less influenced by the cognitive reconstruction inherent in Global WB measures and because it includes both positive and negative components of WB. In this study we report on both Global and Hedonic WB assessed in a 2008 telephone survey of 340,847 people in the United States. Consistent with prior studies, Global WB and positive Hedonic WB generally had U-shaped age profiles showing increasedWB after the age of 50 years. However, negative Hedonic WB variables showed distinctly different and stronger patterns: Stress and Anger steeply declined from the early 20s, Worry was elevated through middle age and then declined, and Sadness was essentially flat. Unlike a prior study, men and women had very similar age profiles of WB. Several measures that could plausibly covary with the age-WB association (e.g., having children at home) did not alter the age-WB patterns. Global and Hedonic WB measures appear to index different aspects of WB over the lifespan, and the postmidlife increase in WB, especially in Hedonic WB, deserves continued exploration.

Suggested Citation

  • Arthur A. Stone & Joseph E. Schwartz & Joan E. Broderick & Angus Deaton, 2010. "A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the United States," Working Papers 1230, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:cheawb:77

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    Cited by:

    1. Terence C. Cheng & Nattavudh Powdthavee & Andrew J. Oswald, 2017. "Longitudinal Evidence for a Midlife Nadir in Human Well‐being: Results from Four Data Sets," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 127(599), pages 126-142, February.
    2. Schwandt, Hannes, 2016. "Unmet aspirations as an explanation for the age U-shape in wellbeing," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 75-87.
    3. Andrew E. Clark, 2015. "SWB as a Measure of Individual Well-Being," Working Papers halshs-01134483, HAL.
    4. Lei, Xiaoyan & Shen, Yan & Smith, James P. & Zhou, Guangsu, 2015. "Do social networks improve Chinese adults’ subjective well-being?," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 6(C), pages 57-67.
    5. DECANCQ Koen & OLIVERA Javier & SCHOKKAERT Erik, 2018. "Program evaluation and ethnic differences: the Pension 65 program in Peru," LISER Working Paper Series 2018-21, LISER.
    6. Dan Benjamin & Kristen Cooper & Ori Heffetz & Miles Kimball, 2019. "Self-reported wellbeing indicators are a valuable complement to traditional economic indicators but aren’t yet ready to compete with them," GRU Working Paper Series GRU_2019_029, City University of Hong Kong, Department of Economics and Finance, Global Research Unit.
    7. Mujcic, Redzo & Oswald, Andrew J., 2018. "Is envy harmful to a society's psychological health and wellbeing? A longitudinal study of 18,000 adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 198(C), pages 103-111.
    8. Deaton, Angus, 2018. "What do self-reports of wellbeing say about life-cycle theory and policy?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 162(C), pages 18-25.
    9. Edsel L. Beja, 2018. "The U-shaped relationship between happiness and age: evidence using world values survey data," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 52(4), pages 1817-1829, July.
    10. John F. Helliwell & Max B. Norton & Haifang Huang & Shun Wang, 2018. "Happiness at Different Ages: The Social Context Matters," NBER Working Papers 25121, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Walker, Janet S. & Baird, Caitlin, 2019. "Using “remote” training and coaching to increase providers' skills for working effectively with older youth and young adults with serious mental health conditions," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 119-128.
    12. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2016. "Antidepressants and age: A new form of evidence for U-shaped well-being through life," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 46-58.
    13. Stone Arthur A, 2011. "A Rationale for Including a Brief Assessment of Hedonic Well-being in Large-scale Surveys," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 14(3), pages 1-15, April.
    14. Corey S. Mackenzie & Eric C. Karaoylas & Katherine B. Starzyk, 2018. "Lifespan Differences in a Self Determination Theory Model of Eudaimonia: A Cross-Sectional Survey of Younger, Middle-Aged, and Older Adults," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 19(8), pages 2465-2487, December.
    15. Koen Decancq & Alexander Michiels, 2016. "Measuring Successful Aging with Respect For What Matters To Older Persons," Working Papers 1604, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    16. Abreu, Maria & Oner, Ozge & Brouwer, Aleid & van Leeuwen, Eveline, 2019. "Well-being effects of self-employment: A spatial inquiry," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 589-607.
    17. de Ree, Joppe & Alessie, Rob, 2011. "Life satisfaction and age: Dealing with underidentification in age-period-cohort models," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 177-182, July.

    More about this item


    Psychological well-being; Hedonic well-being; Global well-being;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I00 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General - - - General
    • C83 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Survey Methods; Sampling Methods


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