A new study has found that a person’s year of birth can influence their sense of well-being, even much later in life. People alive during the Great Depression have especially low levels of well-being, which might bode ill for those alive today.
Psychologist Angelina R. Sutin and her coauthors studied 2,267 Americans from the ages of 19 to 96. The participants reported their well-being by rating how much statements like “I enjoyed life,” “I felt I was just as good as other people,” and “I felt hopeful about the future” applied to their previous week, at regular intervals from 1979 until 2010. The researchers found that well-being tended to increase with age. However, people born between 1900 and 1930 had significantly lower well-being scores than those born later (as seen in the graph above), and that effect tended to persist throughout their lives.
The researchers think the Great Depression is to blame. They note in the journal Psychological Science that individual effects of economic recession, like losing a job, can cause a person’s well-being to fall, and it may not rise again even when he or she gets a new job. Also, “severe economic upheaval at the national level may reduce levels of well-being, a reduction that may persist even through more-prosperous times.”
Sutin and her coauthors note that today’s uncertain economic environment may have similar effects: “As young adults today enter a stagnant workforce, the challenges of high unemployment may have implications for their well-being that long outlast the period of joblessness. Economic turmoil may impede psychological, as well as financial, growth even decades after times get better.”
Given recent news that Millennials (those between 18 and 33) are more stressed and depressed than average, this seems all too plausible.