The mid-life crisis is the subject of a number of films, books, and songs—but there may be something to this pop-culture phenomenon.
According to a new study, the mid-life crisis is real. Researchers from Warwick University followed 50,000 adults through their lives and found people’s life satisfaction followed a so-called “U-shape.” Happiness starts falling from early adulthood, hitting a low at the ages of 40-42, before rising up again towards the age of 70.
Researchers suggest their findings, published in the Economic Journal, are particularly important as they are the first to follow the same men and women throughout their lives to measure happiness. Participants were asked to rate how happy they were with their lives on a life-satisfaction questionnaire, with zero for “very dissatisfied” and 10 for “very satisfied.” The study draws on data from people in Australia, Britain and Germany and concluded there was “multi-country evidence for a U-shape in the level of human well-being.”
While researchers say there is strong evidence that life satisfaction hits a low point in our early 40s, they don’t explain why. They do, however, rule out the possibility that it has something to do with young children in the household. “Adjusting for the number, and the ages, of any dependent offspring leaves the pattern unchanged,” researchers note in the study.
The results actually challenge a previous study, where prominent researchers concluded that human happiness is actually greatest at midlife, the results showing the reverse of a U-shape.
Some researchers have theorized that it’s “unmet expectations” that could be driving the U-shape in well-being and age. Regret over unfulfilled dreams may explain the drop in happiness from young adults, who expect a bright future, which is then felt significantly in midlife.
Eventually, this regret and expectation is abandoned later in life, which results in a rise in happiness.