Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 225–264 | Cite as

Happiness, stress, and age: how the U curve varies across people and places

  • Carol Graham
  • Julia Ruiz Pozuelo
Original Paper


There is now much evidence for a remarkably consistent relationship between age and happiness—“the U curve.” In this paper, we present the first analysis that explores why some nations—and people within them—have turning points that are much earlier while others turn much later. Contributing to past studies, we analyzed the relationship within 46 individual countries, as well as how it varied depending on where in the well-being distribution individuals are, and extended the analysis to stress. The U-shaped relationship between age and happiness held in 44 of the 46 countries, and a reverse U held for stress in almost as many. Our most novel finding is that the timing of the turn varies depending on average country-level happiness and on individuals’ position in the well-being distribution. Our findings highlight the consistency of the relationship as well as how its timing varies across people and places.


Life satisfaction Stress Health inequality 

JEL Codes

D06 D6 I14 



They thank George Akerlof, Danny Blanchflower, and Andrew Oswald for very helpful comments, as well as three anonymous reviewers and Klaus Zimmermann and the editorial team at the Journal of Population Economics. We also thank Jonathan Rauch for providing many helpful citations from the psychology literature, as well as for many helpful conversations.

Compliance with ethical standards

This study was funded by the endowment funds supporting Graham’s Leo Pasvolsky chair at Brookings. There are no conflicts of interest to report.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brookings InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.University of OxfordOxfordUK

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