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Dartmouth professor pinpoints the exact moment when your midlife misery will peak

Dartmouth professor pinpoints the exact moment when your midlife misery will peak
[Photo: Bruno Aguirre/Unsplash]

Researchers have long known that happiness blossoms, in aggregate, earlier and later in life, and that midlife is rather gray. Now an economist has confirmed that this is true for all populations. Everywhere. All humans.

David Blanchflower, a professor of economics at Dartmouth, has charted the happiness of people in 132 countries, and found that the nadir in well-being among developing countries is 47.2. “No ifs, no buts, well-being is U-shaped in age,” he writes in his working paper. “I found it in Europe, Asia, North and South America, in Australasia and Africa. I identified it in every member country of the European Union. It 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.”

How sad are mid-lifers? In an earlier paper, Blanchflower and a colleague found that the happiness drop is roughly equivalent to the effect of a major negative life event, such as divorce or unemployment. In other words, it sucks. And 48, 49, and 50 aren’t much better. But after the dip, well-being improves steadily through age 70, the oldest age in the study. Blanchflower produces a cottage industry of papers that correlate well-being with everything from fruit and veggie consumption to hypertension. Not surprisingly, another paper of his showed that the probability of taking antidepressants peaks in people’s late 40s.

Humans, by the way, are not alone in their sorrowful middle years. Chimpanzees and orangutans share it as well. This, says Blanchflower, indicates that some origins of our midlife funk may be biological. Blanchflower seems to be weathering his own midlife just fine.

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