Is mid-life crisis real? New study says it's perfectly natural and people are unhappiest around the age of 47

In developing nations people are most miserable at the age of 48.2 years, says the analysis


                            Is mid-life crisis real? New study says it's perfectly natural and people are unhappiest around the age of 47
(Getty Images)

Mid-life crisis is real, and people in developed countries are most unhappy at the age of 47.2 years. In developing countries, however, the lowest point stands at 48.2 years.

This is according to a new study that looks at age and subjective well-being in 132 countries. The research by Dr. David G. Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, US, shows a mid-life low around the age of 50 years -- the time when misery is at its peak. 

According to Blanchflower, there appears to be a mid-life crisis, and it appears in both happiness and unhappiness data. He concludes that a “happiness curve” exists in every country, which is U-shaped over a lifetime. This simply means that an individual’s happiness reaches its lowest in mid-life, and the average age for this varies slightly for people in developed and developing countries. 

“Averaging across the 257 individual country estimates from developing countries gives an age minimum of 48.2 for well-being and doing the same across the 187 country estimates for advanced countries gives a similar minimum of 47.2. Well-being is U-shaped in age. The happiness curve is everywhere. No myth,” says the working paper -- Is happiness U-shaped everywhere? -- published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

The paper says: “The happiness curve was found using a variety of measures of well-being, but especially used happiness and life satisfaction. A group of other measures was used, including views on politics and the economy as well as with an individual's life experience including their family life, their living standards, the local area where they lived and do on. All showed a mid-life dip centering around age 50.”

According to the economist, the curve’s trajectory 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 do not. Education, marital status and unemployment are the major influences in a well-being equation.

“I think that there is something natural going on as pressures of life with family and career formation take hold. Then people get realistic about what they can do and life gets better,” Dr. Blanchflower tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).

In a second study, where he explores the relationship between unhappiness and age, Dr. Blanchflower analyzes 15 different individual characterizations of unhappiness. 

This includes despair, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, strain, depression and bad nerves, phobias and panic, being downhearted, having restless sleep, losing confidence in oneself, not being able to overcome difficulties, being under strain, feeling a failure, feeling left out, feeling tense and thinking of yourself as a worthless person. 

The analysis -- which says there is also an inverted U-shape unhappiness curve -- involves nearly 10 million respondents across 40 European countries and the US. “Unhappiness is hill-shaped in age. There is an unhappiness curve,” he concludes in the second paper, also published by NBER.

The analysis says that there is growing evidence from around the world that prime-age adults are struggling, and especially so if they have low levels of education. It argues that this is particularly apparent in the US that has seen a rapid rise in “deaths of despair, principally down to drug poisonings and suicide”. Drug poisonings, although at a much lower level, are up in the UK and markedly so for the prime age, says the paper.

The study says it seems that the middle-aged have had particular difficulties in adapting to the circumstances in the years of slow growth since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. 

The study says it seems that the middle-aged have had particular difficulties in adapting to the circumstances in the years of slow growth since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. (Getty Images)

Dr. Blanchflower explains that the finding of a dip in well-being in mid-life likely adds important support to the notion that being in one's forties and fifties exacerbates vulnerability to disadvantages and shocks. This implies that people with disabilities, less education, broken families, lost jobs and so on, are likely also to get hit hardest by the effects of aging. 

“The resiliency of communities left behind by globalization was diminished by the Great Recession, which made it especially hard for the vulnerable undergoing a mid-life crisis with few resources, to withstand the shock,” says Dr. Blanchflower.

“The unhappiness paper argues that the mid-life crisis I document everywhere is a natural event, even found in great apes. It suggests we need a social safety net to deal with it including in families and communities. It seems to be hitting especially hard in the years since the Great Recession and for the most vulnerable,” Dr. Blanchflower tells MEAWW.

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