People become happier with age, survey finds

Posted at 04/17/2008 2:18 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Happiness increases along with age, according to findings from a three-decade-long U.S. survey released on Wednesday.


Between 15 percent and 33 percent of 18-year-old Americans were likely to say they were very happy, with women happier than men and whites happier than blacks, based on findings from the survey conducted between 1972 and 2004.


The older people got, the more likely they were to report being happy, with slightly more than half of respondents in their 80s saying they were very happy.


"With age comes happiness. That is, overall levels of happiness increase with age, net of other factors," wrote Yang Yang, a University of Chicago sociologist, in a report on the survey published in the American Sociological Review.


The study drew its conclusions from interviews conducted between 1972 and 2004 by the university's National Opinion Research Center, which each year asked between 1,500 and 3,000 people: "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days -- would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?"


Yang said the study confirmed a hypothesis that improvements in self-esteem and other traits that contribute to well-being tend to come with age.


The differences between genders and races when it came to a subjective sense of happiness decreased as people grew older, as access to health care evened out and people adjusted to similar losses in terms of relationships.


People tended to be happier during economic good times, Yang said. But those born into the crowded and competitive "Baby Boom" generation from 1946 to 1964 were the least happy -- probably because some did not get what they wanted out of life, he said.