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Health & Balance

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The Older You Are, the Happier You Get

Researchers Say Aging and Increased Happiness Go Hand in Hand
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 22, 2008 -- So much for the stereotype of the older adult as an isolated, sad hermit. Age and happiness may increase together, according to new research that suggests many older adults are very happy as well as socially active.

The effects of older age on happiness are strong. Over a person's life span an increase in happiness -- with some ups and downs along the way -- is the rule, according to Yang Yang, PhD. Yang is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and the author of the study evaluating happiness among various age groups over a three-decade period.

Social connections are also common among older adults, found Benjamin Cornwell, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center on Demography and Economics of Aging at the University of Chicago and a researcher of a second study. "Seniors are not isolated," he says. Rather, they are plugged in and sociable; the 80-somethings in his study were more "plugged in" socially than those in their late 50s.

Both studies are published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.

Age and Happiness Study

With age comes happiness, found Yang as she evaluated data from the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center, considered one of the best sources of happiness data in the country.

From 1972 to 2004, those administering the survey asked a cross section of more than 28,000 people the same question: "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days -- would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?"

Among those 18 years old, 15% to 33% said they were very happy, with white women most likely to be very happy, followed by white men, African-American women, and African-American men.

Among the 80-year-olds, about half were very happy.

Among all those surveyed, baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, were least happy, with just 32% saying they were very happy.

Seniors and Social Connections

In the second study, Cornwell found that older adults remain socially active, and they sometimes beat out younger folks when it comes to social interactions. His team evaluated the results of in-home interviews with 3,005 men and women, ages 57 to 85, none living in institutions, between July 2005 and March 2006. They were part of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a project supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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