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The U-shaped age–happiness relationship: real or methodological artifact?

Ottar Hellevik ()
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Ottar Hellevik: University of Oslo

Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, 2017, vol. 51, issue 1, 177-197

Abstract: Abstract Economists studying subjective well-being commonly conclude that its relationship with age is U-shaped. Data from a large Norwegian survey project show that this holds for cognitive well-being (life satisfaction), but not for emotional well-being (happiness), which declines with age. When a U-shaped relationship between age and happiness is reported, it is a result of controlling for variables such as health and family situation, which lie between age and happiness in the causal hierarchy, mediating indirect effect between them. Controlling for intervening variables may lead to misinterpretations of what actually happens to feelings of happiness as people age, since the negative effects on happiness of deteriorating health or loss of partner are consequences of growing older and therefore should not be controlled away. A relevant control variable is cohort, since it may produce spurious association between age (life phase) and happiness. Using multiple regression analysis instead of cohort analysis to separate aging and cohort effects, runs into severe collinearity and missing data problems.

Keywords: Inappropriate control; Cohort analysis; Intervening variables; Happiness; Life satisfaction; U-shape (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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