Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Does Happiness Rise in Old Age?

Over the years, happiness studies have revealed a "paradox of well-being"—the finding that life satisfaction increases with advancing age. This is a paradox because no one can explain why older people appear to become increasingly satisfied with their life despite more illness and the greater likelihood of widowhood.

Now a study explains the paradox. It is a mirage, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study by researchers at RAND. In an examination of longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study, the researchers find that older Americans with higher life satisfaction live longer than their counterparts with lower satisfaction. Consequently, as people age, those with higher life satisfaction account for a larger share of the survivors, driving up overall satisfaction levels. But looking at life satisfaction at the individual level shows a decline with age. While satisfaction is relatively stable from ages 65 to 75, the researchers report, the rate of decline grows with age at older ages. 

"Our results suggest that the optimistic picture about well-being among older persons based on cross-sectional data is misleading," the researchers conclude. "Those with lower levels of life satisfaction die younger and those who survive experience declining life satisfaction as they age."

What a bummer.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, The Age Profile of Life-Satisfaction after Age 65 in the U.S., NBER Working Paper 28037

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