How does subjective well-being vary with age? To find out, Stone et al (here, HT: The Brits (HT: BC)) conducted a large random-digit dial survey of 300,000+ US citizens. They asked about well-being and a few other variables, like age. We can only hope they had a good wireless plan. Here's the big result:
The covariates are unemployment, marital status, whether one has children living at home, and gender. Younger people increase in well-being ratings once you adjust for these because they're more likely to be unemployed. Of course be careful of the axes, as their real rating scale varies from 0 to 10. But the large sample size and continuous trend across age groups lends credence: I buy it.
What about anxiety and age? Here's the proportion of respondents who reported feeling "a lot" of stress the previous day, in different age groups:
I wonder what explains this trend. Perspective? Fiscal and emotional stability? Norepinephrine levels in the amygdala?
Finally, for those readers who do not trust their eyes, here's their table showing the percent of variances explained:
So anger and stress show a pretty consistent decline across age groups, while the curves are more U-shaped for measures of subjective well-being. Note sadness follows an inverted U-shaped curve.
Many top 250 movies explore this curious relationship between happiness and age, like Up, Ikiru, Cinema Paradiso, and The Wrestler. Much of it seems counter-intuitive. Here's a post of mine from '07 wondering whether we become happier with age, but I apparently didn't see the U-shaped curve coming.