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The U-shaped relationship between happiness and age: evidence using world values survey data

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Abstract

The paper retests the U-shaped relationship between happiness and age using the cross-classified multilevel regression procedure and the World Values Survey data. The analysis accounts for period and cohort effects. The results reconfirm the pattern that happiness is U-shaped in the life course. That is, happiness decreases from a high-point in young adulthood, reaches a low-point in midlife, and thereafter increases to arrive at another high-point in old age. The results show that the high-point of happiness in old age is lower than the high-point of happiness in young adulthood. That happiness does not return to its initial high-point after it drops to a low-point in midlife is perhaps another stylized fact in the relationship between happiness and age.

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Notes

  1. The literature says that happiness exhibits good validity and reliability properties. For validity, studies find a high correlation between the personal appraisal about happiness and, say, success in careers (Diener et al. 2002) or in other life domains like family life (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005), engagement in their society (Guven 2011), good health (Weinman et al. 2008), longevity (Danner et al. 2001), or smiling (Ekman et al. 1990). There is also a high correlation between the personal appraisal about happiness and the appraisal of spouse, relatives, and friends (Costa and McCrae 1988; Sandvik et al. 1993). For reliability, studies find that the reports about happiness at different points in time are stable and consistent as long as no extraordinary life events occur between periods (Andrews and Withey 1976; Diener and Larsen 1984; Costa and McCrae 1988; Ehrhardt et al. 2000; Schimmack and Oishi 2005). Thus, all things the same, a person who is happy at time t is also happy at time t + 1.

  2. I use both period and cohort to determine the age of a person or both period and age to determine the cohort of a person whenever the information is missing in the raw data. I exclude entries that do not report information for age and birth year.

  3. The "Appendix" contains the results of a regression analysis using a 2-level multilevel regression procedure.

  4. Grouping countries into “Western and rich countries” and “other countries” lead to the same conclusion as well. Details are available from the author.

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Funding

This study was funded by a research grant from Ateneo de Manila University (Grant Number: RCW-18-2016).

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Correspondence to Edsel L. Beja Jr..

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Appendix

Appendix

The results in Table 3 below are comparable to the results in Table 1 in the main text: happiness is U-shaped with age and its low-point is in the mid-40s. Like Table 1 in the main text, Models I to IV in Table 3 below indicate large variations at the country level. Like in the main text, the estimate for the coefficient of GDP per capita is consistent with the Easterlin Paradox (Model III); and there is a norm effect in happiness (Model IV).

Table 3 Results of 2-level multilevel regression analysis

A more important point from Table 3 is the following: the results of a 2-level multilevel specification are also useful for analyses of the relationship between happiness and age. Put differently, the results of analyses that do not focus on age, cohort, and period need not obtain misleading estimates.

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Beja, E.L. The U-shaped relationship between happiness and age: evidence using world values survey data. Qual Quant 52, 1817–1829 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-017-0570-z

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