Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?

Posted on Thursday, 18 June 2009

A large empirical literature is emerging on the determinants of happiness and mental 

well-being. As would be expected, this topic has attracted attention from medical 

statisticians, psychologists, economists, and other investigators (including recently 

Easterlin 2003, Blanchflower and Oswald 2004, Helliwell and Putnam 2004, Lucas et 

al 2004, Layard 2005, Smith et al 2005, Ubel et al 2005, Gilbert 2006, and Kahneman 

et al 2006). However, a fundamental research question remains poorly understood. 

What is the relationship between well-being and age? 

There is an important difficulty with the U-shape conclusion. A variable that 

measures how old someone is may be standing in for omitted cohort effects (earlier 

generations may have been born in, say, particularly good or bad times). Hence the 

U-shape in age could be an artifact of the data