Human beings are happy when they are in the mid-20s and when they are hitting the 60s, but they experience quite low levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction during midlife. Some theories have assumed that this U-shaped pattern over the life cycle is caused by unmet expectations that are felt painfully during that time of the life. A new IZA discussion paper by Hannes Schwandt puts this theory at a test by comparing 132,609 expectations of future life satisfaction with the actual life satisfaction outcome. He finds people to err systematically in predicting their life satisfaction over the life cycle: Young adults have high aspirations that are subsequently unmet. And their life satisfaction decreases with age as long as expectations remain high and unmet. In the late 50s, most people abandon their aspirations and expectations align with current wellbeing. At that age wellbeing starts to rise again. The author argues that given the disappointed expectations accumulated until that age, it is possible that wellbeing increases if the elderly learn to feel less regret. In other words: people might not anticipate the wellbeing enhancing effects of abandoning high aspirations and experiencing less regret.
Unmet expectations: Why we are unhappy during midlife
Featured paperIZA Discussion Paper No. 7604 Unmet Aspirations as an Explanation for the Age U-shape in Human Wellbeing
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