Life Cycle Happiness and Its Sources

Richard Easterlin, University of Southern California

Happiness rises slightly, on average, as people progress from age18 to 45, and declines slowly thereafter. This pattern is the net result of disparate life cycle movements in the satisfaction people get from the principal sources of happiness: their financial situation, family life, health, and work. The slight rise in happiness through midlife is due chiefly to growing satisfaction with one’s family life and job, which in combination more than offset decreasing satisfaction with one’s health. Beyond midlife, happiness edges downward as a continuing decline in satisfaction with health is joined by diminishing satisfaction with one’s family situation and job. These negative trends beyond midlife are offset to a considerable extent, however, by a sizeable upturn in people’s satisfaction with their financial situation, particularly in older age. These findings are based on an analysis of the United States General Social Surveys conducted between 1972 and 2002.

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Presented in Session 39: Demographic Perspectives on Emotions, Happiness, and Hormones