Saturday, February 18, 2012

Happiness and loneliness by age

In a post on the British government's push to keep people working into their seventies, Parapundit's Randall Parker excerpted remarks from a senior aide:

He told delegates at the Stockholm summit that more than half of those older than 75 in Britain described themselves as lonely “all or most of the time”.

“Work matters, particularly for older people, not just for money, but absolutely for social contact,” he said.

I wondered if there was much in the way of detectable differences in feelings of self-reported loneliness and happiness strictly by age. Obviously, a host of factors other than age influence how lonely and how happy people feel, but I was more curious as to whether or not there are differences as is, not after trying to control for everything like income and marital status. Simply, at what age(s) do levels of loneliness tend to be lowest and happiness greatest in the US?

The following table shows the percentage of respondents, by age range, who reported at their time of participation in the GSS that they had not felt lonely at all over the course of the previous week:

Age
Not lonely
18-24
48.6%
25-29
53.0%
30-34
51.6%
35-39
50.0%
40-44
55.0%
45-49
73.5%
50-54
56.7%
55-59
66.5%
60-64
72.0%
65-69
63.7%
70-79
61.0%
80-89
51.7%

Plotting loneliness and age exhibits a bit U-shape--it tends to be a little worse when people are younger and still finding their ways in the world, and when they're elderly, especially once they get into their late seventies and eighties and people around them really begin dying off. From the mid-forties to the mid-sixties looks to be our least lonely years, when people are established in the social institutions important to them.

The same table for happiness, but on a 3-point scale, inverted so that a higher value indicates greater happiness:

Age
Happiness
18-24
2.14
25-29
2.21
30-34
2.23
35-39
2.22
40-44
2.21
45-49
2.22
50-54
2.23
55-59
2.22
60-642.26
65-69
2.30
70-79
2.28
80-89
2.22

One standard deviation is 0.63 points, so the average difference from the least happy age to the most happy is one-quarter of one standard deviation. Not much here, but hey, I ran the numbers so why not share them?

GSS variables used: AGE, LONELY(0)(1-7), HAPPY

2 comments:

Jokah Macpherson said...

I find it surprising that those coming out of the teenage years, who are in the peak of their health and often in institutions that surround them with like-minded peers have the lowest levels of "not loneliness"...even lower than those largely isolated in nursing homes with strangers.

The happiness table fits with the research indicating that trying to change one's base level of happiness is pretty much futile.

Anonymous said...

It's clear that the happiest people are children but since those under 18 are excluded from this study, we don't have this data.