This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy

The Economist this week leads with a story about the U-shaped pattern of happiness by age (the "U-bend," as they call it). Younger people are more happy than middle aged persons--with a global trough at age 46, according to data used by The Economist--and then older people are the happiest lot of all. So, don't dread old age. Instead, you should look forward to it, with the idea that you don't have to prove anything to anybody anymore. You can just enjoy what you have and who you know. But Richard Easterlin at USC (and a former President of the Population Association of America, and who is mentioned by The Economist, but only in reference to older work) says not quite so fast. In a new book titled "Happiness, Growth, and the Life Cycle" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), Easterlin notes that the U-bend depends on cross-sectional data, such as that derived from the World Values Survey. The results are not quite the same if you use data for cohorts.
Life Cycle happiness is also clearly different from the U-shaped regression relationship of happiness to age estimated in the economics of happiness literature. This U-shaped pattern is obtained by comparing people at different ages who have identical life circumstances--the same income, marital status, health and the like. But life circumstances change systematically with age and affect the life cycle pattern of happiness. For example, older people, in comparison with those middle-aged are, on average, more likely to have lower income, be in poorer health, and to live alone--circumstance that would affect adversely their happiness compared with those mid-life, and that need to be taken into account in estimating the life cycle pattern of happiness (p. 131).
Easterlin's data show that in the United States there is not only a cohort pattern, but also a gender pattern. In general, men get happier as they grow older, and women get less happy. There is a lot to contemplate in that comparison.

No comments:

Post a Comment