Tuesday 21 January 2020

'We get more miserable until we hit 48 - then we get happier'


Stock photo: Picture posed by models.
Stock photo: Picture posed by models.

David Chance

If you are Irish, you can expect to feel steadily more miserable up until the age of 48, according to a new study by top economist Prof David Blanchflower.

The ex-Bank of England rate setter, now a professor at Dartmouth College in the US, found that on average people hit peak misery in rich nations at 47.2 years.

Prof Blanchflower's research shows high levels of happiness at aged 16 are followed by 30-plus years of rising unhappiness.

However, the increase in "happiness" in later life is a U-shaped one, meaning that the recovery takes time.

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In Europe, at least, things improve steadily until you are in your 80s.

"No ifs, no buts, well-being is U-shaped in age," he wrote of the study that covered 132 countries.

In Europe, happiness and misery levels were similar across married and unmarried people, while in the US, married people were significantly happier.

Even so, that U-shaped curve from youth to old age still applies, according to Prof Blanchflower.


"I found it in Europe, Asia, North and South America, in Australia, Asia and Africa," he wrote. "I identified it in every member country of the EU, as well as a further 13 European countries.

"The curve's trajectory holds true in countries where the median wage is high and where it is not and where people tend to live longer and where they don't," he added.

Studies of happiness are used to supplement more traditional measures of an economy, especially as questions have now been raised as to whether existing metrics really capture the well-being of an economy.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan pioneered "Gross National Happiness" back in 2008 while New Zealand has a "Well-being Budget" that includes mental health and environmental goals.

In a separate analysis published yesterday, Prof Blanchflower said middle-aged people have had difficulties in adapting their lives since the economic crash a decade ago. "Being middle-aged, especially with low levels of education, is tough these days," he wrote.

Irish Independent

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