Andrew Oswald, University of Warwick

"Why Is There So Much Midlife Distress in Affluent Nations"


This paper provides evidence of extreme levels of distress among midlife citizens in affluent nations. Yet, remarkably, these individuals are near the peak of their lifetime earnings and live in the healthiest and richest nations in human history. This is a troubling paradox that demands scientific and public-policy attention. The paper blends data on midlife suicide, sleeping problems, alcohol dependence, suicidal thoughts, poor concentration, forgetfulness, job strain, and severe headaches. The paper consciously eschews data on ‘happiness’ scores. We link our empirical analysis to, and find consistent ground within, three separate and currently disputatious literatures (on subjective well-being, distress among midlife Americans, and the ‘midlife crisis’). The paper’s key finding is not confined to cross-sections, nor to a single nation. Nor, it appears, is the pattern due to cohort effects. Overall, we argue that the phenomenon identified in the paper may now need to be addressed jointly by scholars across the fields of economics, psychology, psychiatry, epidemiology, political science, public health, and beyond.

Andrew Oswald

Contact person. Casper Worm Hansen