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Are You Having a Midlife Crisis or a U-curve?

Research points to a better outlook and happier times ahead

By Liza Kaufman Hogan

The phenomenon is not unique to the U.S. — birthplace of the midlife crisis. David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick found that 55 of 80 countries followed a similar satisfaction U-curve when their residents were asked, “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?” The nadir was at an average age of 46. 


“Whatever sets of data you looked at,” Blanchflower told Rauch, “you got the same things." That is, Rauch writes,"life satisfaction would decline with age for the first couple of decades of adulthood, bottom out somewhere in the 40s or early 50s, and then, until the very last years, increase with age, often (though not always) reaching a higher level than in young adulthood.”

So why the lull in midlife followed by an upswing? Rauch offers three reasons: 

1. In midlife, many people are caring for children and aging parents, juggling careers with caregiving and experiencing stressors which diminish as these dependencies lessen.

2. People who are unhappier die sooner, increasing the average level of satisfaction among the pool of remaining respondents. 




Likewise, in summarizing their 2011 research, Carstensen and her colleagues wrote, “As people age and time horizons grow shorter, people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.” 

Other hopeful findings Rauch cites:

  • Older people are less prone to feel unhappy about things they can’t change.
  • Social reasoning and long-term decision making improve with age.
  • People feel better, not worse, about their lives as they move through their later decades, even with the onset of chronic health problems that would lead one to expect distress or depression.


Liza Kaufman Hogan is a freelance writer. Read More
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