Forties are the worst period of your life according to new research
Research says your early 40s are your worst years, writes Jamie Doward
New research suggests that human well-being hits a low point in our early 40s — and then starts to pick up again.
A paper to be published in the forthcoming edition of the Economic Journal finds that life satisfaction gradually declines from early adulthood to its lowest point between the ages of 40 to 42, before rising again until the age of 70.
The paper, based on research tracking 50,000 adults in Australia, Britain and Germany throughout their lives, is the first to monitor human happiness and well-being across the life cycle. It appears to bear out the theory that a person’s happiness is U-shaped.
This has been observed in previous studies of happiness conducted in several countries, but by compiling data tracking the lives of tens of thousands of people over decades, and across different locations, the researchers have found that the U-shape phenomenon is not confined to specific countries but is universal.
Individuals were asked to fill in conventional life-satisfaction questionnaires in which they were asked to rate how happy they were with their lives on a scale, with 0 for very dissatisfied and 10 for very satisfied. Economists Terence Cheng, Nick Powdthavee and Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at the University of Warwick and one of the foremost experts on well-being, then measured the changes in happiness of a number of the people selected at random throughout their lives. Comparing the data sets from the three countries allowed the economists to draw their conclusion.
They write: “Following the same men and women through the years of their evolving lives, we show that there is multi-country evidence for a U-shape in the level of human well-being.”
The research contradicts an influential study carried out in the US, which argued that, when it comes to happiness, people experience a “reverse” U-shape in which their well-being is greatest in mid-life. With longevity rising in many nations, there is increasing interest in the measurement of well-being in modern society, with many politicians calling for such metrics to play a greater role in policy-making.
The economists did not attempt to explain why happiness across a person’s life cycle is U-shaped, but they were emphatic about one thing: “The existence of this mid-life nadir is not because of the presence of young children in the household. Adjusting for the number, and the ages, of any dependent offspring leaves the pattern unchanged.”
Phillip Hodson, a psychotherapist, said the findings bore out the observation that mid-life could be stressful. “Childhood and old age are protected times of life to a degree,” he said. “In old age you are funded or you have funded it. It’s the same for a child. You are looked after at both ends of life and your responsibilities are fewer.
“The burdens of life fall on the middle-aged. You are looking after your children, your parents, yourselves. You are working as you will probably never work again in older age and probably harder than you did when you were younger. You are also having to be on call a lot, timewise, so your days are long and your purse is stretched. This is almost universally the case, regardless of whether you live in Venezuela or England.”