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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jun 1;107(22):9985-90. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1003744107. Epub 2010 May 17.

A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the United States.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-8790, USA.


Psychological well-being (WB) includes a person's overall appraisal of his or her life (Global WB) and affective state (Hedonic WB), and it is considered a key aspect of the health of individuals and groups. Several cross-sectional studies have documented a relation between Global WB and age. Little is known, however, about the age distribution of Hedonic WB. It may yield a different view of aging because it is less influenced by the cognitive reconstruction inherent in Global WB measures and because it includes both positive and negative components of WB. In this study we report on both Global and Hedonic WB assessed in a 2008 telephone survey of 340,847 people in the United States. Consistent with prior studies, Global WB and positive Hedonic WB generally had U-shaped age profiles showing increased WB after the age of 50 years. However, negative Hedonic WB variables showed distinctly different and stronger patterns: Stress and Anger steeply declined from the early 20s, Worry was elevated through middle age and then declined, and Sadness was essentially flat. Unlike a prior study, men and women had very similar age profiles of WB. Several measures that could plausibly covary with the age-WB association (e.g., having children at home) did not alter the age-WB patterns. Global and Hedonic WB measures appear to index different aspects of WB over the lifespan, and the postmidlife increase in WB, especially in Hedonic WB, deserves continued exploration.

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