The midlife crisis is REAL: Study finds that misery maxes out at 47

The midlife crisis is REAL: Study finds that misery maxes out at 47 – but happiness comes back in older age

  • A new study data on international happiness found that people in developed nations are most miserable at age 47.2
  • In developing nations, it’s not much difference, with happiness falling to its lowest point at 48.2
  • The Dartmouth College study found that a ‘U curve’ persists in 132 countries
  • Happiness returns to levels seen only in our 20s during our late 70s  

The worst age in developed nations like the US and UK, is 47.2, according to new research. 

According to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NERB), this middle age is when people feel least satisfied with their lives, and it doesn’t matter where they are, how their overall health is. 

In nations that are still developing, it happens only a little later: 48.2. 

Professor David Blanchflower, an economics professor at Dartmouth College, has long been a student of life satisfaction and over the years has continued to bolster his theory that our happiness falls on a ‘U’ curve over time. 

Happiness falls to its lowest point for Americans – as well as people in other developed nations, like the UK – at age 47, as a a graph from a new study shows 

Blanchflower compiled a massive dataset and found his happiness curve in a total of 132 countries. 

Although trajectories varied and looked somewhat different from nation-to-nation, the basic gist was the same. 

For the US, measured by the General Social Survey from 1972 to 2018, once controls are introduced, happiness goes into a veritable free fall from the optimism of an Americans’s 18th year of life and first of adulthood on into middle age. 

It’s not exactly ‘thirty, flirty and thriving,’ but the plummeting happiness quotient does slow it’s downward roll a little around age 30, before bottoming out in the late 40s for the US. 

For his part, Blanchflower doesn’t offer a a lot of explanation in his latest paper, but does heartily defend that it’s solid evidence that ‘the happiness curve is found in 32 countries. No myth’ (the final words of his paper’s conclusions, to which he’s devoted an entire page). 

Others akcnowledge that science hasn’t quite worked out why, but offer some compelling context and hypotheses. 

Journalist Jonathan Rauch wrote a book on The Happiness Curve, discussing the same 40s slump. 

He noted in an interview with MarketWatch that orangutans and chimpanzees also hit a midlife slump. 

Rauch also suggests that this is a time of transition – and we shouldn’t necessarily think of it as a crisis point. 

‘The best conjecture is that it is because of a change in our values and our brains,’ he says. 

‘It seems like we start out wired for social competition, we’re ambitious, but our ambition is a trickster. 

‘It is disappointing because it never lets you feel satisfied and by midlife we feel disappointed.’

Brain shrinkage also starts in the 30s and 40s, and accelerates in our 60s. 

The sex hormones testosterone (for men) and estrogen (for women) also start declining as early as in the 30s, and the shift may become more noticeable in the 40s. 

But, there’s hope. 

With time, happiness perks back up again, according to the new working paper. 

In fact, happiness climbs back to heights seen only in our 20s once more in our 70s. 

So no matter where you live, or how dark the middle ages seem, hold on, the happiness curve is everywhere,’ writes Blanchflower.    


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