February 2014

IZA DP No. 7942: Longitudinal Evidence for a Midlife Nadir in Human Well-being: Results from Four Data Sets

forthcoming in: Economic Journal [Online First]

There is a large amount of cross-sectional evidence for a midlife low in the life cycle of human happiness and well-being (a 'U shape'). Yet no genuinely longitudinal inquiry has uncovered evidence for a U-shaped pattern. Thus some researchers believe the U is a statistical artefact. We re-examine this fundamental cross-disciplinary question. We suggest a new test. Drawing on four data sets, and only within-person changes in well-being, we document powerful support for a U-shape in unadjusted longitudinal data without the need for regression equations. The paper's methodological contribution is to exploit the first-derivative properties of a well-being equation.