I’ve got a new piece at The American on how money saves us from unhappiness in old age. A slice:
Easterlin, a pioneer of the study of happiness in the field of economics, set out to chart the trajectory of happiness over an ordinary person’s life-span. He discovered that, on average, happiness rises slowly from our early twenties, peaks at about forty-five, and then declines as slowly as it rose. But the smooth arc of happiness over the life-cycle obscures dramatic action in average satisfaction within the main domains of life—family, work, health, and finances—that together compose the overall trend.
Easterlin, drawing on the massive General Social Survey, reports that health satisfaction heads steadily south from eighteen on, while family satisfaction peaks at about fifty then tails off determinedly. Job satisfaction hits a crescendo at about sixty and slopes off with retirement. Only financial satisfaction, like Matlock reruns, gets better with old age. Financial satisfaction, Easterlin finds, dips until the mid-thirties, levels off, then heads skyward, soaring ever higher each remaining year of life. If not for sharply rising financial satisfaction, the mild downward slide from midlife would be a sharp drop into a well of gray-haired despair. Money does make us happy in at least this one way: as a firewall against an otherwise soul-sapping senescence.
But Easterlin—a vocal critic of the money-happiness link—does not interpret his findings quite this way. Why not?
Why not find out?