Affluent society: Westerners' moods head south in middle age

Affluent society: Westerners' moods head south in middle age
Middle aged people suffer a huge decline in happiness, a new study has shown. The phenomenon discovered by the Lancet Global Health, however, only affects those living in the affluent West.

The study, which uses global survey data, found that western countries, including the UK and USA, experienced a dip in levels of life satisfaction between the ages of 45 and 55, with happiness levels rising again into old age.

The report used four years of Gallup World Poll data from more than 160 countries and covered more than 98 percent of the world’s population.

Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London said that the reasons behind the dip were numerous and highly complex, but that there were potential explanations and many lessons to be learned.

Co-researched Angus Deaton, of Princeton University, suggested that one reason for the dip in satisfaction could be the increased pressure to become financially successful during middle age.

“This is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present wellbeing, so as to have increased wealth and wellbeing later in life,” he said.

The results of the study further showed that levels of life satisfaction worldwide followed a predictable pattern depending on geographical location.

African countries experienced low levels of satisfaction, with sub-Saharan Africa facing prolonged and continually low results.

Other areas such as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union saw a steady decline in satisfaction with age.

Despite being the most affluent geographical sector, the West was the only region which saw levels increase after a decline. The increase of satisfaction appears to coincide with the common retirement age, suggesting that the decrease in pressure to earn could contribute to rising levels of happiness in the elderly.

Reuters / Bob Strong

Professor Steptoe noted that while happiness and financial success are separate entities, in this instance it seemed that economic well-being was a contributing factor to higher levels of life satisfaction.

“It would appear that wellbeing goes along with economic prosperity in the world,” he said.

The 2013 World Happiness Report found that the Western countries remained the most happy, with northern European and Scandinavian countries topping the tables.

The happiest country in the world was Demark.

READ MORE:Brits genetically ‘programmed’ to be grumpy – report

The UK ranked at number 22, with results showing that while there is a higher GDP per capita than some of its European neighbors, the perceived level of corruption is also higher, suggesting that happiness levels are influenced by financial matters.

Recent research, however, suggests that Brits may be “genetically programmed” to be grumpy as they have a short-form of the gene which produces serotonin, the neurochemical which controls the brain’s happiness levels.

ICYMI