As Young as You Feel

How you feel as you age may depend on where you live, says a new study by psychology’s Arthur Stone who examined self-reports from around the world.
ByRobert Perkins

The trajectory of how satisfied you are with life across the life span is driven, in part, by where you’re from.

Using the Gallup World Poll, an ongoing survey of more than 160 countries, USC Dornsife’s Arthur Stone and colleagues examined self-reports of well-being and daily mood from around the world. In search of larger trends, the researchers compared these reports across age groups and countries.

The team found that in high-income nations like the United States and those in Western Europe, well-being generally declined with age until people reached ages 45 to 54 — and from there, well-being increased until the end of life. In contrast, people living in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Latin America reported that their well-being consistently decreased with age.

In Africa, well-being stayed pretty much the same no matter the age of the poll’s respondents.

“The U-shape pattern of well-being was well-known for the U.S. and Europe, but the distinctive and different patterns from around the world are of great interest,” said Stone, professor of psychology. “These patterns call out for explanation.”

Stone, who also has academic appointments at Stony Brook University and Princeton University, collaborated with Andrew Steptoe of University College London and Angus Deaton of Princeton University on the research. Their findings were published on Nov. 6 by The Lancet.

Stone joined USC in January as director of the new USC Dornsife Center for Self-Report Science (CSS), located in the recently opened Dauterive Hall. Psychologist Joan Broderick serves as associate director of the center, which employs other behavioral scientists. CSS, housed in USC Dornsife’s Center for Economic and Social Research, intends to forge collaborations with researchers across campus and is emblematic of the interdisciplinary mission of the new facility.

CSS explores the accuracy of self-reports — the linchpin of survey research, polling, marketing and health care outcomes. Health providers and medical researchers ask patients questions about their symptoms and ability to function in their life to make diagnoses and to evaluate the effects of treatment. How the questions are asked and over what period of time can strongly influence patients’ answers. Identifying and controlling for potential sources of bias is at the core of the center’s mission.

“Scientists at our center are working to improve current self-report methods and are developing innovative techniques for collecting self-reports in everyday life,” Stone said. “These methods and techniques are already impacting the way medical symptoms and well-being are evaluated, and we suspect that will have an even broader impact in the future.”