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Midlife Crisis and U

A study says most people live a U-shaped life -- happiest when they are young and old, but middle age is emotionally low. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A new study shows that unhappiness in middle age, also known as midlife crisis, is a universal experience.

Two economists did the study: Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England and David Blanchflower at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. They used information collected earlier on two million people from eighty nations.

They found that people around the world seem to share an emotional design in life. That design, they say, is shaped like the letter U. Levels of happiness are highest when people are young and when they are old. In the middle, however, most people's happiness and life satisfaction levels drop.

Professor Oswald says some people suffer from midlife depression more than others. But, he says, it happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor and to those with and without children.

Generally speaking, people reach their lowest levels between the ages of about forty and fifty-five. But then, as they continue into old age, their happiness starts to climb back up.

What the research does not show is why all this happens. Professor Oswald says one possibility is that people recognize their limitations in middle age and give up on some long-held dreams.

Or perhaps people who are happier live longer, and this is responsible for a growing percentage of happy older people. Or, he says, maybe people have seen others their age die and they value more their own remaining years.

The report is to be published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Last December, government researchers reported a big increase in suicides among middle-aged people in the United States. They looked at injury-related death rates by age group from nineteen ninety-nine to two thousand four. They found that suicide increased almost twenty percent among people ages forty-five to fifty-four. No one is sure why.

By comparison, rates generally fell for those sixty-five and older. And for people twenty to twenty-nine the suicide rate was nearly unchanged.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the findings are subject to some limitations. For example, accidental drug poisonings might sometimes be mistaken for suicides.

Over all, suicides in the United States increased four percent from nineteen ninety-nine to two thousand four. That year thirty-two thousand four hundred people took their own lives.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I’m Jim Tedder.