Brockman+2010 - Soc Indic Res(2010 97:2342 DOI...

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Why are Middle-Aged People so Depressed? Evidence from West Germany Hilke Brockmann Accepted: 10 November 2009 / Published online: 24 December 2009 Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009 Abstract Does happiness vary with age? The evidence is inconclusive. Some studies show happiness to increase with age (Diener et al. 1999 ; Argyle 2001 ). Others hold that the association is U -shaped with either highest depression rates (Mroczek and Christian 1998 ; Blanchflower and Oswald 2008 ) or highest happiness levels occurring during middle age (Easterlin 2006 ). Current studies suffer from two shortcomings. Firstly, they do not control for three confounding time variables: age, period and cohort effects. Secondly, all empirical research lacks a theoretical explanation as to why age affects happiness. The purpose of our analysis is to contribute to closing both of these research gaps. A social investment model frames the dynamics of happiness across the life-span. The empirical test draws on West German panel data that followed individuals from 1984 to 2005. Descriptive analysis shows a cubic age function with the lowest level at middle age. However, hierarchical three-level variance component models (Rabe-Hesketh and Skrondal 2005 ), find significant differences across pre-war and post-war cohorts, baby boomers and offspring of the baby bust as well as deviations during reunification. Yet, cohort and period effects account for less than 10% of the variance. (Un)happiness in midlife is more strongly determined by gender-specific occasional influences and indi- vidual characteristics. Both define objective and subjective returns of professional and personal life investments. These social investment decisions date back to early adulthood and bear a high risk of failure during midlife. Unforeseen consequences and long-term private and professional commitments make it costly to adjust, but at the same time new investments may pay off in a pro-longed future. This dilemma turns many middle-aged people into ‘‘frustrated achievers’’. Keywords Happiness ± Life course ± Age ± Gender ± Multi-level analysis H. Brockmann ( & ) School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jacobs University Bremen, Campus Ring 1, 28759 Bremen, Germany e-mail: [email protected] 123 Soc Indic Res (2010) 97:23–42 DOI 10.1007/s11205-009-9560-4
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1 Introduction Research on the effects of age on happiness has produced mixed results. Argyle ( 2001 ), Diener et al. ( 1999 ) and Myers ( 1992 ) claim that happiness increases slightly with age. By contrast, more recent studies detect a U -shaped association. Many researchers find the lowest level of happiness around the age of 40 (Mroczek and Christian 1998 ; Blanchflower and Oswald 2008 ). Others, such as like Easterlin ( 2006 ), claim that happiness is at its highest around this age. Standard determinants and mechanisms of happiness like income (Clark et al. 2008 ; Easterlin 2001 ) and social support (Haller and Hadler 2006 ), adaptation processes (Fred- erick and Loewenstein 1999 ), and the balance between aspiration and attainments (Plagnol and Easterlin 2008 ), can explain any of these outcomes.
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