Happiness and Aging in the United States

Abstract

The past decade has brought increasing concern, in countries all over the world, of declines in mental health and well-being. Across countries, chronic depression and suicide rates peak in midlife. In the U.S., deaths of despair are most likely to occur in these years, and the patterns are robustly associated with unhappiness and stress. There is also a less-known relationship between well-being and longevity among the elderly, particularly for those over age 70.

In this paper, we analyze several different data sets for the U.S. and provide extensive evidence on the middle age patterns, how they differ across the married and unmarried, and review new work on the elderly. The relationship between well-being and aging has a robust association with trends that can ruin lives and shorten life spans. It applies to much of the world’s population and links to behaviors and outcomes that merit the attention of scholars and policymakers alike.