Happiness across the life cycle

Exploring age-specific preferences




Lelkes, O. (2008). Happiness Across the Life Cycle: Exploring Age-Specific Preferences. Policy Brief 3.2/2008. Vienna: European Centre.


Existing evidence suggests a U-shaped relationship between age and happiness, when controlling for income and other personal characteristics. On the other hand, there is no clear pattern without the use of controls. Thus, it is not ageing as such, which results declining happiness, but rather the circumstances which are associated with ageing. Which of these circumstances could be averted? Are the preferences of the elderly are similar to others? The paper aims to explore these issues, using the European Social Survey. The results imply that the varying level of life satisfaction during the life cycle may be explained partly by changing preferences (by the decreasing importance of work, the increasing importance of religion, and the declining disutility of being single), and partly by changing circumstances. While changing preferences seem to increase well-being, changing circumstances seem to decrease it. Old days thus are happy above all due to changing priorities in life.