Happiness at Different Ages: The Social Context Matters

72 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2019 Last revised: 18 Apr 2019

See all articles by John F. Helliwell

John F. Helliwell

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Haifang Huang

University of Alberta - Department of Economics

Max B. Norton

University of British Columbia (UBC)

Shun Wang

KDI School of Public Policy and Management

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Date Written: November 1, 2018

Abstract

This paper uses a variety of individual-level survey data from several countries to test for interactions between subjective well-being at different ages and variables measuring the nature and quality of the social context at work, at home, and in the community. While earlier studies have found important age patterns (often U-shaped) and social context effects, these two sets of variables have generally been treated as mutually independent. We test for and find several large and highly significant interactions. Results are presented for life evaluations and (in some surveys) for happiness yesterday, in models with and without other control variables. The U-shape in age is found to be significantly flatter, and well-being in the middle of the age range higher, for those who are in workplaces with partner-like superiors, for those living as couples, and for those who have lived for longer in their communities. A strong sense of community belonging is associated with greater life satisfaction at all ages, but especially so at ages 60 and above, in some samples deepening the U-shape in age by increasing the size of the life satisfaction gains following the mid-life low.

JEL Classification: I31, J12, J32, R13

Suggested Citation

Helliwell, John F. and Huang, Haifang and Norton, Max B. and Wang, Shun, Happiness at Different Ages: The Social Context Matters (November 1, 2018). KDI School of Pub Policy & Management Paper No. 19-06, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3369330 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3369330

John F. Helliwell

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Haifang Huang

University of Alberta - Department of Economics ( email )

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Max B. Norton

University of British Columbia (UBC) ( email )

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Shun Wang (Contact Author)

KDI School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

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Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

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