This month, two economists presented a working paper that offers statistical proof for the existence of the midlife crisis. In a survey of 1.3 million people across 51 countries, the researchers found that people report a measurable decline in happiness, starting in their 30s and continuing until around age 50, when they started to feel satisfied with their lives again.
“We’re seeing this U-shape, this psychological dip, over and over again. There is definitely a midlife low,” said Andrew Oswald, an economist at the University of Warwick and co-author of the study.
There’s just one problem: Psychologists say the midlife crisis doesn’t exist.
“I had a little tussle with Oswald about this a year or two ago,” said Susan Krauss Whitborne, a professor of psychology and brain science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and just one of several psychologists who hold this view. “I’ve been doing research for pretty much my whole career on adult development, and I’ve never found age linked definitively to anything psychological about a person. You can call it a midlife crisis. A quarter-life crisis. But whatever’s going on with you personally, you can’t blame it on age.”
“I don’t know why some psychologists say it doesn’t exist,” said Oswald’s co-author, David Blanchflower, an economics professor at Dartmouth College. “It’s blindingly obvious. All we did was plot the data points.”