The worst time of middle age? When you’re 47.
Researcher discovers a universal slump in life satisfaction.
- In 132 countries, a clear U shape is seen in happiness in the late 40s.
- The study controls for influencing factors in arriving at its conclusions.
- Three possible reasons for a post-middle-age return to happiness are suggested.
It's a good-news, bad-news thing. The bad new first: Statistically speaking, according to a a new study and companion paper, if your 47th birthday was 73 days ago, this is the worst time of your life. (That means you're 47.2 years old in case you're too depressed to do the math.) The good news: Things can only get better. The even better news: If you're doing well these days, lucky you, though if you live in the developing world, you've got another year until things bottom out.
The research comes from Dartmouth's David Blanchflower in two new reports published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It's hoped the conclusions drawn in the studies provide additional insight for those providing mental-health care, or those experiencing difficulties themselves. Middle age is a rough passage for many people. Blanchflower writes, "It seems that the middle aged have had particular difficulties in adapting in the years of slow growth since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. The interaction between a nadir for happiness among the middle-aged along with a major downturn has had major social, political and health consequences that have reverberated around the world."
A world full of middle-age blah
Image source: fizkes/Shutterstock
For "Is Happiness U-Shaped Everywhere? Age And Subjective Well-Being In 132 Countries," Blanchflower analyzed data from ninety-five developing countries and thirty-seven advanced countries to conclude there's a universal "happiness curve" in life, a U shape that reaches its lowest point in middle age. It was so common in the data, Blanchflower writes, that "It was really hard not to find the U-shape." Surprisingly, "the curve's trajectory holds true in countries where the median wage is high and where it is not and where people tend to live longer and where they don't."
Paradoxically, those living in less developed regions, and who thus have a shorter average lifespan, get an additional year before hitting rock bottom, though that bottom may be worse. In the supplementary study, "Unhappiness and Age," Blanchflower writes, "The resiliency of communities left behind by globalization was diminished by the Great Recession which made it especially hard for the vulnerable undergoing a midlife crisis with few resources to withstand the shock."
One of the questions Branchflower was interested in investigating is whether or not "unhappiness is simply the inverse of happiness." Supporting the notion is that the data revealed an inverted U unhappiness curve. Blanchflower writes:
"The happiness curve was found using a variety of measures of well-being but was especially [based on] happiness and life satisfaction. But a group of other measures were used including views on politics and the economy as well as with an individual's life experience including their family [life], their living standards, the local area where they lived and [so] on."
Defending his methods
Despair among White U.S. residents during two overlapping periods, with and without controls
Image source: National Bureau Of Economic Research, ©2020 David G. Blanchflower
Blanchflower's approach is not without controversy.
In response to earlier research, he writes, one critic protested "that the appearance of this U-shaped curve of well-being is the result of the use of inappropriate and questionable control variables," especially marital status. Blanchflower says in rebuttal that the U shape appears even without such controls, as shown above.
The dispute appears to hinge on the conclusions one wants to draw from collected data. As an example, Blanchflower says that when pronouncing a simple statistical truth — citing "smokers die at rate Z" — not factoring in other controls makes sense. However, this wouldn't be the case when attempting to identify implications within the data, one of the goals of his research. Using aging's effect on happiness and its role in relationships as an example, he writes, "it would likely be an error to use an equation without controls to tell the public what impact aging has on happiness without separating out the effects of other variables such as, say, education, marriage or unemployment."
What's going on
Image source: Mathew Bennett/unsplash
Blanchflower suggests three possible reasons for people's mid-life crises and their ability to bounce back from them:
- Individuals learn to "adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations."
- One becomes grateful in time for the good things in their lives. Blanchflower cites his personal experience: "I have seen school-friends die and come eventually to value my blessings during my remaining years."
- It could be that cheerful people live longer, and that the U-shape simply reflects this.
- Healthy sex life can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms - Big ... ›
- The 'Great Midlife Edit': How to master your middle years - Big Think ›
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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