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Misery in Middle Age? It’s Normal

47 or 48 years-old?  You may have had trouble getting out of bed this morning.

Research by Dartmouth professor Danny Blanchflower published Monday finds that general unhappiness with life peaks at 47.2 years of age.

What’s interesting about Blanchflower’s work is that his study is global.  The results hold in developed and underdeveloped countries, and in countries facing economic challenges as well as those with strong economies.  Average lifespan has no impact on the results.

There is an indication that dissatisfaction with life in middle-age may have a biological component.

This point in middle-age is a time when children are leaving the home and life goals that have not been met may be judged too late to occur.  Preparation for retirement is assessed, and health problems emerge.

Blanchflower points out that this middle-aged slump may have profound political and economic consequences.  The years around 50 are when a person is likely in their role of greatest influence, and they are entering the period of highest asset accumulation.

Yet at this very point they are most likely to be disappointed with, even suspicious of, political and economic institutions.

Today we find that this is the point when deaths of despair from opioid abuse, suicide and lifestyle diseases are most likely to occur.

Implicated in these findings may be the global breakdown in social institutions such as marriage and religion.  People are less socially interdependent and, left to face major life challenges feeling more alone, the result is more despair.

Possible contributors to the results may also include the loss of confidence and opportunity found in many people of middle age since the great recession.

Encouraging in Blanchflower’s findings is that after age 54 unhappiness declines sharply.  Perhaps most people successfully resolve their mid-life crises and find more satisfaction in life as they age.

The years after age 60 are the years of the least despair.  People may find new sources of happiness in their retirement, or perhaps the older people in the study have more social institutions still in place than younger survey respondents do in today’s world.

Older studies have found similar results, so Blanchflower’s findings are no surprise.  What is a surprise is that economic and cultural factors do not weigh heavily on the findings.  His data on wellbeing and age come from 132 countries.  The simple fact is that just before age 50 we’re likely to be at our most miserable.

But hang in there.  Empirically at least, things get better.



Misery in Middle Age? It’s Normal

George Hofmann

George is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, from Changemakers Books. Visit George's site or join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness

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APA Reference
Hofmann, G. (2020). Misery in Middle Age? It’s Normal. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jan 2020
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