If you’re someone who’s a decade or two out from your high school graduation, do you ever find yourself thinking that you’re just not as happy as you were back then? Of course all the positive-thinking self-talk then kicks in and you think, “Well, maybe I actually wasn’t that happy before. I do like my life better now. I like the independence I have. Yeah, yeah, I really like being an adult.” Yet, no matter the glass-half-full glow you try to put on things, you can’t shake the feeling that your happiness has declined over the years, that at 30, you weren’t as happy as you were at 20, and that at 40, you weren’t as happy as you were when you were 30.
Well, that feeling is more than a nostalgic hunch, and it’s not unique to you. It’s actually been born out by hundreds of research papers and studies and shown to be a near-universal experience. My guest today has authored many of those papers. His name is Dr. David Branchflower and he’s a labor economist who not only studies the data around money and jobs, but also around human happiness. Today on the show David explains how happiness follows a U-shaped curve, and starts declining around age 18, and continues to fall into midlife, before picking back up again, and David shares the average age at which happiness hits its very lowest point. While it’s not entirely clear why the U-shape of happiness occurs, we talk about some possible reasons behind it. And while the U-shape is consistent across the world, it can be lower or higher, and so we discuss how factors like gender, socio-economic and martial status, and having children affect happiness, and whether it’s possible to mitigate the dip.
While the fact that it won’t be until your mid-60s that you feel as happy as you were at age 18 might seem depressing, David argues that it’s comforting to know that the feelings of declining happiness you experience at you approach midlife are normal, and will not only pass one day, but start moving in the other direction.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- “Is Happiness U-Shaped Everywhere?” — one of the main research papers on the happiness curve that David has authored
- David’s book Not Working: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?
- Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton
- Study on great apes having a midlife crisis
- AoM Series: The Seasons of a Man’s Life
- AoM Podcast #776: How to Shift Out of the Midlife Malaise
- AoM Article: The Economics of Happiness
Connect With David Branchflower
- David’s Faculty Page at Dartmouth (includes links to his research)
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Listen to the episode on a separate page.
Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.
Listen ad-free on Stitcher Premium; get a free month when you use code “manliness” at checkout.
Click here to see a full list of our podcast sponsors.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. If you’re someone who’s a decade or two out from your high-school graduation, do you ever find yourself thinking that you’re just not as happy as you were back then? Of course, all the positive-thinking, self-talk thing kicks in and you think, “Well, maybe I actually wasn’t that happy before. I do like my life better now. I like the independence I have. Yeah. Yeah. I really like being an adult. No matter the glass half-full glow you try to put on things, you can’t shake the feeling that your happiness has declined over the years, that at 30, you weren’t as happy as you were at 20, and that at 40, you weren’t as happy as you were when you were 30. Well, that feeling is more than a nostalgic hunch and is not unique to you.
It’s actually been borne out by hundreds of research papers in studies and shown to be a near universal experience. My guest today has authored many of those papers. His name is Dr. David Blanchflower. He’s a labor economist who not only studies data around money and jobs, but also around human happiness. Today on the show, David explains how happiness follows a U-shaped curve and starts declining around age 18 and continues to fall in midlife before picking back up again, and David shares the average age at which happiness hits its very lowest point. Well, it’s not entirely clear why the U-shape of happiness occurs. We talk about some possible reasons behind it, and while the U-shape is consistent across the world, it can be lower or higher, and so we discuss how factors like gender, socioeconomic, and marital status, and having children affect happiness, and whether it’s possible to mitigate the dip. While the fact that it won’t be until your mid-60s that you feel as happy as you were at age 18 might seem depressing, David argues that it’s comforting to know that the feelings of declining happiness you experience as you approach midlife are normal. It’ll not only pass one day, but start moving in the other direction. After the show is over, check at our show notes at aom.is/happinesscurve.
David Blanchflower, welcome to the show.
David Blanchflower: Thanks for having me, good to be here.
Brett McKay: So you are a labor economist, but you’ve done a lot of research and writing about happiness over the lifespan of humans. How did an economist who specializes in labor end up researching human happiness?
David Blanchflower: Well, one of the big things I’ve been interested in is work, and I thought a lot about, why do people work? They work because obviously it pays them money, but actually it makes people feel good. And very early on, when I started working in labor economics, I was in the UK in the 1980s, and there was lots of unemployment, as there was all around Europe, and there was a big question, “Was unemployment voluntary? Did people choose to do it ’cause it made them happy? Or did they not choose to do it and they were forced to go and be unemployed? Was it what’s called Marx’s army of the unemployed? Was it a volunteer army or a conscript army?” So I started to think of that for a really, really long time when they basically discovered a really important fact, which is that undoubtedly on every piece of data that you ever look at, unemployment makes people unhappy. There’s no disputing that it doesn’t look that people choose to be unemployed. If you chose to be unemployed, why would you do that if it makes you unhappy?
So I started to think about wellbeing, and then as time goes on, the economists are interested in utility, and I started to think, “Well, how could we measure people’s wellbeing?” And so that’s how I got there. But particularly I ended up being a central banker, and I was interested in inflation and unemployment, one of the big issues we see today, and the question I started asking myself was, “Well, if you wanna measure inflation and unemployment and their effects, you should look at wellbeing and happiness.” So that’s what I did, and basically found that a one percentage rise in unemployment makes people much more unhappy than a 1% point rise in inflation. So the consequence, as we’re seeing right now, the consequence of time to deal with inflation may well be something much worse. So I’m a labor economist that care about work, I care about unemployment, and that’s why I ended up working on wellbeing, happiness, unhappiness.
Brett McKay: Okay. One of the things your research has shown is that over the lifespan of human happiness, there is this U-shaped curve. Can you walk us through happiness from young adulthood through elder years? Like when does happiness start to fall?
David Blanchflower: Right. It starts to fall actually… I’m a professor. I teach at Dartmouth. I taught class yesterday, it was the first class of the quarter, and these young folks, 18 years old in my freshman class, they’re extremely happy. They’re at college and they’re young, and in any of the data that we see, that looks like a really happy time, and I teach this class with them. I teach them about the U-shape in happiness, and I say to them, “Well, make best because it’s gonna get worse for quite a while. Eventually it’ll get better, but just so you understand, it seems to happen to everybody.” And so we have a lot of evidence, millions of observations around the world from 150 countries, across time periods and so on.
And basically what it appears is that happiness declines through midlife, there’s a midlife crisis late 40s or so on, and then things pick up through around age 65 or 70, and there’s a lot of evidence that actually being happy is particularly good. In fact, at age 70, happy people live longer. So this is what you see, a decline and then a pickup, and the extent of that pickup varies by countries. In a place like Germany, it’s more like a ski jump, but in most countries including the United States, it’s really like a U-shape. And just to finish it off, so happiness is U-shaped in age, but if you think of unhappiness, it’s just a flip. So the unhappiness curve is just the hump-shaped copy of the U-shape. So it’s an inverted view. So it looks like in the data, there’s a life-satisfaction decline, a happiness decline through midlife, which is astonishingly present in the data, and it’s quite interesting quite a lot of psychologists try to pretend that it’s not there, but it’s blindingly obvious in the data.
So like, okay, there’s a midlife dip. Is there like an average age, like where like, this is like the lowest, like I could be looking at my life and I’m like, “Okay, when I hit this age… ”
Yeah. 48 seems like a pretty good low point to you, somewhere around there, as I said, I’ve written all sorts of papers and I can show it to you in lots of different countries. The average across developed and developing countries, across 150 countries is about… 48 or so is a good one. And the surprise actually is that the same thing is true in developing as well as developed countries. I’d expected there to be a big age difference, and the answer is, there isn’t.
Brett McKay: No, so yeah, that’s interesting. So this isn’t just a United States phenomenon, this happens across cultures and across countries.
David Blanchflower: Absolutely, it happens across cultures, and one of the big things is that over the years, we’ve started to see surveys being run in lots of different countries to allow us to do these comparisons. So Gallup, The polling organization, includes questions about happiness in masses of countries, and many governments around the world include it in many of their surveys. In the UK, a survey called the Labor Force Survey set up to calculate the unemployment rate actually includes it. And surveys by the European Commission and the Japanese government and all sorts of places around the world include these kinds of questions. So we can track, we can track happiness amongst groups of people and we can track happiness among the same… From the same person as they age.
Brett McKay: When differences do appear, so generally, there’s gonna be a U-shape curve across countries, but are there differences like, does the trough happen at different times?
David Blanchflower: Well, there’s a bit of variation, but the surprising thing is how little variation there actually is. It looks so deeply genetic, but actually, your listeners may well be surprised by the fact that actually a study has been done amongst orangutans and chimpanzees. They don’t ask orangutans, but they ask volunteers and their keepers and so on. And it appears that actually in the data, the same pattern is seen in great apes, so that maybe suggests there’s something deeply genetic going on.
Brett McKay: So apes have midlife crises too?
David Blanchflower: Seems that that’s the way, as I said, there’s a new paper by a whole series of scientists, of biologists and scientists and economists who have got together and done the study of apes. So that suggests too that perhaps it’s deeply there, and then that might suggest that’s a reason why it doesn’t vary much by country, but you think you won’t have expected that in a country that has very short life expectancy, much shorter than in the United States, that you would see something different, but the surprise is that you don’t, but the great thing is… I’m an empiricist, the great thing is you go look at the data and the data tells its story. And so that’s the challenge around the world, we haven’t expected this, but that’s what we see.
Brett McKay: Are there differences between the sexes when it comes to the U-shaped curve of happiness?
David Blanchflower: Not really, though there’s much expectation that there really would be, there isn’t, but the more recent… Like I’ve just done a new paper, out in the last couple of days, called The Female Happiness Paradox. It is true that there’s a U-shape in age, but it certainly appears… When you think of where it is, it turns out that on average females are less happy than men, so you might think that the function is a little higher for men than it is for women. Just think of two U-shaped, one slightly above the other, so it does appear that women are less happy than men, but they have a U-shape as well, and the bottom of it is about the same place as it is for men.
Brett McKay: And one thing that your paper talked about is that while there is a U-shape in unhappiness, it’s shifted over time, I think the paper suggested that women were happier maybe a generation ago compared to women today, is that correct? Did I read that right?
David Blanchflower: Well, the latest work we’ve been doing, it makes it rather less clear. There certainly was evidence in the past, some evidence in data, some researchers had suggested that in the past women were happier than men, and actually were healthier than men, but I think over time what you’ve observed is women have become more equal, they’ve gone to work and they’ve actually had taken on some of the… Some of the traits, if you like, that men have ’cause they’ve gone to work, but it appears that today, the evidence is much clearer that women are less happy than men, there was some evidence in the past that the reverse was true. What particularly happened is that the pandemic especially hit women, who were really, really hit very hard by the pandemic and the lockdowns in March and April, particularly 2020, they somewhat recovered, but that seemed to have been a really big deal.
But there is some evidence, and we don’t quite understand why, that those patterns were starting to emerge in 2018, 2019, perhaps we don’t… We have a great story for it, but the pandemic is really if you put the tin hats on it, and the evidence we have is, for now anyway, that women are less happy than men on almost every measure. And there’s no contradiction, it turns out at all, when you look at measures of unhappiness, so over time, if you look at measures of stress and depression and pain, these are all things that women experience more than men. The contradiction a little bit is when you ask them about their happiness levels, but unhappiness is clearly something that women report, they’re more anxious and worried and so on than men, the little bit of contradiction is when you ask about happiness, but it’s pretty absolutely clear-cut in unhappiness.
Brett McKay: Okay, so men and women will hit that midlife trough at about the same age, but men will probably be less unhappy than women at that period?
David Blanchflower: Yeah, I mean, I think it… So we’re thinking about that… Think of two U-shapes, just take these two U-shapes and say, “Do they look similar to each other?” “Yeah.” “Is the bottom about the same age?” “Yeah.” “Is one of these curves slightly above the other?” The answer is yes, the male line is a bit above the female line, especially now, as I say, with the pressures that came from lockdown, from remote working, from having to look after children, women particularly worried about finances and other things. So the answer to that is, yes, the patterns were clear, but they’re much clearer today, and particularly with what’s happened in the last couple of years.
Brett McKay: How does education influence this happiness curve?
David Blanchflower: Well, education, I mean, there’s a similar story here, which is that happiness is, as I said, U-shape in age, but it turns out that there’s a big pattern in the data, which is, groups that are particularly unhappy and have particularly high unhappiness levels are less educated, prime age, we used to think it was men, but it’s men and women, so less educated, prime age in America who’s seen their good jobs disappear. I have a book called Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone? And the problem there is that we’ve seen a big rise in what I call morbidity and mortality, so that group, particularly the less educated in America especially have been impacted by it. And famously, Anne Case and Angus Deaton have written about what they call Deaths of Despair, and what we’ve seen is a big rise in deaths from drug overdoses, suicide, and cirrhosis of the liver, I mean, we’re talking about 100,000, we’re not talking a million or so as we’ve seen it in covid. So in a sense, though, this midlife crisis has particularly impacted the prime age, less educated whites, in fact, more than anything else, and Native Americans, and I’ve written something about that. So this is really important because in some ways, you might connect this unhappiness of these folks to their poor performance in the labor market, and you see this around the world.
Brett McKay: Okay, so low education, low employment prospects, that’s gonna make you even more… And I think, yeah, the research show, which is surprising, we typically think of deaths as despair like suicide as a young person’s thing, but…
David Blanchflower: Yeah, this is really particularly surprising, and if you look at things like death from cocaine use, death from heroin, all these overdoses, as they say, and cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide, the patterns in the data, you might think that this is certainly, these are young persons. Turns out that’s not true. We’re talking of the mid-age, if you like, the high points of these are exactly as we’ve talked about, they’re in midlife. So the high points of opioid deaths, deaths as I say from cocaine and from any of these opioids we’ve talked about, those happened to be in midlife, so that’s a consistent pattern in the data. Apart from those who want to argue that there is no midlife crisis in the happiness data, when there’s clearly evidence, objective evidence from the real world, as I said, suicides and so on, peak in midlife. Something else that peaks in midlife actually is the taking of antidepressants. So we have work showing there’s another way of objectively looking at these paths. Half of people argue there isn’t a midlife crisis when there’s quite clearly a midlife crisis in observed things like death.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.
And now back to the show. What about marital status? How does that affect the curve?
David Blanchflower: Well, marital status is a little bit difficult. It has a degree of impact. It has more impact on the shape of this curve in the United States than elsewhere, not in the least for two things, which is that in the mid-20s, young Americans marry more than most other European countries and advanced countries, but by the age of 35, they divorce more. So there’s a reality at the beginning, which is, it has an impact on happiness. But both the married and unmarried, there is still a midlife crisis. The path, the path of the data before that is a little strange because people think, “Oh great, I’m gonna get married. This is great.” But then it doesn’t work out. But we find both for married and unmarried that there is still a midlife crisis. But the pattern’s a little more… A little different in the United States, as seen, not least because the proportion of people that marry in their 20s is higher in the United States than elsewhere, but I’ve written about that.
Brett McKay: I think one thing I read, correct me if I’m wrong, in one of your papers, it talks about marital status, as you get older, if you’re married when you’re older, your happiness will be… You’ll be happier than people who are single. Everyone’s gonna experience that uptick, but if you’re married, you’ll probably be a little bit happier.
David Blanchflower: One of the things that… Well, there’s actually a couple of things to think, married people tend to be happier than unmarried people. They’re happier than divorced and separated, widowed people. One of the things that actually is also relevant, new work has just been done about people over the age of 70, and there’s two things to note. Happy people live longer, but two big things happen in later life. The first is that ill health particularly in the last three years of life has a big impact on people’s happiness, but one of the other things is that in later life, so I think after the age of 70, the death of a spouse actually has very big negative effects on the wellbeing of the other spouse. So marital status has an impact, but obviously when you’re tied together, this has a negative effect on your happiness, in particular as they say in later life when a spouse dies. So marital status is good, but you’re then tied to the spouse, and that has implications later, but…
Brett McKay: What about children? Have you looked at that, like if you have kids?
David Blanchflower: Yeah, I’ve got lots of these, pal, I’ve got so many papers I’ve worked at. So we worked on… We have a paper, I with my colleague Andrew Clark, and we were intrigued by the fact that in the data, it looks like children make people unhappy, and we both have kids, and it never really made any sense to me, in the sense that you might think you had one kid and if that made you unhappy, why would you have more? That wouldn’t make any sense. So it turns out that we’ve now basically worked that out, and the answer is as follows, young kids make you happy. So toddlers, two-year-olds, three-year… I have seven grandkids, and they’re all under five, and they’re all wonderful, but then it’s slightly different with grandkids, but anyway let me keep going. So kids under five in the data just undoubtedly make people happy, but in the raw data, it looks like people with kids between the age of about five and 18, in the raw data don’t make you happy, and that doesn’t seem to make any sense. What we discovered is that once you control for the cost of kids… So the big thing is you’ve got a 15-year-old, they’re expensive.
So it turns out that once you control for the fact that it generates a cost and it generates difficulty in paying your bills, once you control for that, turns out kids make you happy. Older kids might not make you quite as happy as young kids, but kids make me happy, and that makes sense. I mean a lot of this stuff is… The listeners is… Does this make sense to you? And as I said, I have three kids. Why would I have had three kids if the first one made me unhappy, the second one made me unhappy… Well, that’s by accident, but it wasn’t an accident, and I think the answer is that children, it’s hard to work it out, but it turns out that having teenagers is expensive, and once you control over the fact that it’s expensive and it’s a trouble to your finances, then kids make you happy, which makes sense.
Brett McKay: Well, and also what happens when you have a teenager, you’re typically approaching that 47, 48 age, so have you been able to separate that?
David Blanchflower: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. At the same time, these processes are going on, the pressure’s on, marriages and so on. I mean, having teenagers, I remember, tough days, tough, tough times, but as you say, the two things interact together, and then you’re getting to this midlife period. And a lot of the time people ask me, you’re gonna ask me, “Well, then what?” What do you say to people? And I always say to people at the low point, “Well, the great thing about this research is, A is, you are not unique, it’s not unique to you, and B, it’s gonna get better. And I think it’s the positive bit of this work.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and it seems like part of the reason once you hit that midlife trough things start getting better is that you just start accepting that your life is what it is, right? And you stop regretting what could have been and you just move on.
David Blanchflower: Well, the reality is that people are becoming more realistic in their aspirations. They understand that maybe they wanted to be a top-10 golfer, but that’s not what they could do and they ended up having a career doing something else and they became realistic and their life got better, and perhaps it’s to do with the fact that their income rose over time, and eventually, they would become, but I think a lot of it’s about becoming realistic.
Brett McKay: Okay. So it sounds like if part of the reason we get happier after that midlife dip is that we become more realistic. Then the flipside of that points to why this happens, like why the midlife dip happens in the first place. So part of it’s genetic because it also happens to primates as well, but it sounds like it also happens because… This midlife dip happens because we start running into our unmet expectations, right? Like you start feeling regret that your life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would be when you were 20 years old.
David Blanchflower: Yeah. I think it’s a lot of that but I think you then get to the point going, “Well, actually it’s not that bad.” I mean there are positives coming forward, there are unmet expectations, and yes, you haven’t become a supreme court justice, but actually being realistic, life may be actually better than you think, and in fact you can… The kids are gonna go off to college, and one of the big things I always remember is the kids going off to college, and what are you doing in the last year or so? You’re fighting and arguing with your kids. In a sense, you are preparing them to leave, making them want to leave, and you’re being prepared for them to leave, and then you move into other parts of your life.
But there’s evidence about people becoming disabled, and you ask people, “What happens if you’re a football player and you can no longer play football, you have a knee injury?” And you say, “The whole of my life is football.” And then you discover later that actually there are other things that you can do. You can play pickleball, or you can play golf, you can surf, you can do all sorts of things, and people suddenly realize that there’s other things to life, remembering that some people don’t do that, some people do get in that midlife crisis and they don’t survive it, and we are talking about 100,000 people a year who are in that sorta… Particularly in that sorta situation, but I think that the answer is reality comes. I mean the surprise in a sense, we haven’t focused on it, is in a U shape. We’ve talked about the drop from youth to midlife, but then really the focus has to be then from midlife to age 70, this thing picks back up again, and so that’s what we have to think about, things are gonna get better, reality is gonna set in. And I think the answer is, when you look at my own life, I think I became realistic. The grass on the other side was not quite as green as I thought.
Brett McKay: I’m sure someone’s listening to this and thinking, “Okay, 47, 48, I’m gonna hit this low point.”
David Blanchflower: I’m 70. Jeez.
Brett McKay: Okay, but I’m sure there’s like someone who’s like 35, listening, who’s like “I wanna avoid that dip.” Do you have a hunch whether it’s possible to avoid the dip by doing certain things like, “I’m gonna optimize my life?”
David Blanchflower: No. I’m the wrong person really to ask that other than as an individual. There are all sorts of things about friend… I mean, well, I’ll say this, psychologists are actually good at this stuff, but as an economist, what I basically discovered was that economists care about money things. So a lot of the stuff I’ve tried to think about is, “Well, how much money buys you happiness? Well, more money, do things.” But what we discovered was that lots of other things have really very high happiness value.
So living in a safe place, having friends, having a dog, going to the cinema, going to the theater, going to see an art museum, going to an art museum. So these kinds of things where… I guess the stories, it takes a village, the surprise in a way is that a marriage has a very big positive in money terms. If you try and put these things in money terms, these sorts of things have a very high value, and so I think people learn to… They go to knitting groups and sewing groups and chess groups and book clubs, those kinds of things appear to be bonding and they appear to have much greater value than an economist would’ve thought, and money doesn’t buy as much happiness as you might have imagined.
So maybe life’s about that. You haven’t made as much money but the reality is… So one of the big stories is that relative things matter, yes, you can pay yourself to others, but having a bigger car, having a big, fancy BMW may look great at the beginning, but every day you take it shopping. You have to go to the store just like someone who drives a little car, and you become realistic, and you look at other things and then… So in a way, I’m a guy who looks at data, psychologists are… There’s a huge industry, people talking about how to be happy and what to do, but I’m an economist who looks at the data. I’m the fact guy, not the fat, not the fat guy. I mean, the facts guy. [chuckle]
Brett McKay: So you’ve given some insights, some advice on what you can do as an individual, knowing that you’re gonna have this happiness dip as you approach middle age. I mean, there’s things you can do to mitigate it, have friends, go visit art museums, have interests, are there also just managed expectations, like just it’s gonna happen?
David Blanchflower: Managed expectations. Yeah, I think the answer is that I like the fact of saying to people, “This is just normal. This is what happens to people. This is something that happens, and it’s gonna pass. It’s going to pass. Just understand it’s going to pass, and there are things that you can do to help. Talk to people, go to therapy, all sorts of things, but ultimately, I think the focus in a way with our discussion has been about, happiness declines from youth to middle age as you try and find your way and decide what you want to do. But eventually other people have been in this situation. Lots of other people are in this situation, and boy, it’s gonna get better.” That, I think, is the thing that I would say. Now, a psychologist might explain why that is, but that’s what I say to people. “Hope is not lost, each year from now… ” But those who are at 47, 46, life might seem pretty bleak and grim, but it’s gonna get better.
Brett McKay: Well, you’re a labor economist, so I imagine you want your research to influence public policy, and this is an issue on the public policy level ’cause you said 100,000 people are dying a year from these deaths of despair. How do you think this information can influence public policy?
David Blanchflower: Well, I think it’s really, really important to try and think about the wellbeing. When I talk about the wellbeing… In Britain, I talk about the wellbeing of the man or woman on the Clapham omnibus, and I’ll translate. You care about the wellbeing of those, particularly in this world at the low end, with rising inequality, public policy to try to do things about poverty and jobs. So my book I wrote is called, as I said, basically about what happened to the good jobs? Where did all the good jobs go to? Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone? The answer is that… The evidence appears to be that people respond to work. They like work, they like to do it. So the provision of well-paid decent jobs is particularly important. And we’ve seen that in the pandemic, we’ve seen that people have now been choosy, they’re choosing jobs that they want to go to. The provision of a good job raises wellbeing. Inability to work is a big deal, and think about the people I talked about, the less educated, blue-collar worker compared to, let’s say, their father and their grandfather, their standard of living is not as high.
So the answer is that we, in a sense to this issue of despair and distress, we have to do something about those who have been left behind. We have to do something about provision of healthcare, programs to help people get off these drugs. We have to try and do something about those most impacted, and provide ways of helping people in their mid-lives, but the answer, I think, increasingly, and we’ve learned it during the great pandemic, is that in a sense, we’ve gotta help people, and the provision of furlough schemes and help through this crisis perhaps is indicative of that because this has been a really big shock to people’s wellbeing. So helping people and adjusting them, but also giving incentives for firms to hire people looks like a really big deal, because Case and Deaton and I take the same view that much of this distress that we’ve seen is driven by the labor market jobs. We simply haven’t delivered enough jobs of a quality for those at the low end, and that seems like a big policy prescription.
Brett McKay: Well, David, this has been a great conversation. Is there someplace people can go to learn more about your work?
David Blanchflower: Yes, we can link to it. There’s a whole host of papers that are on my website. I think you’re gonna post some, you’ll post a link to the website. There’s all sorts of papers there and I can try and make sure that it’s easy for people to access, but yes, some of them are a little bit technical, but a lot of them just lay out pretty easily what’s going on. I think of this as applied common sense. When you talk to people, people come right to me and they say to me, “Yeah, that makes sense to me.” I felt like I… Personally, I had a midlife crisis. I did, and so it seems to me that this is sensible things, and the people listening to it should say, “Does it make sense?” And if it doesn’t, that’s fine, but if it does, and most people seem to think it does, then what you’d like to know is that there’s work going on trying to understand this, and that’s what I do, and that’s what other people do, and increasingly people in Economics do it, and Angus Deaton, as I talked about a minute ago, won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Danny Kahneman, who’s a psychologist, he also won the Nobel Prize in Economics. There’s a whole slew of people. Dick Faylor, who talked about behavioral things, so economists are interested in wellbeing and how people behave and trying to understand patterns in the data, and that’s what this is. It’s not magic, it’s about applied common sense.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned you had a midlife crisis. How old were you when it happened?
David Blanchflower: 48.
Did you know I’d say that? 48 and three months.
Brett McKay: The research is indisputable.
David Blanchflower: That’s right. I started from that, right?
Brett McKay: Well, David, thanks so much for your time, this has been an absolute pleasure.
David Blanchflower: Cool. Thanks so much. Great.
Brett McKay: My guest today was David Branchflower, he’s a labor economist, who also researches and writes about human happiness. You can find more information about his work at our show notes at aom.is/happinesscurve.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM Podcast. Make sure to check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of, and if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM Podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code “manliness” at checkout for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android IOS, and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM Podcast, and even if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple podcast or Spotify, helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member if you think they would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to AOM Podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action