Mid-life crisis a 'myth,' University of Alberta study concludes

Crisis? What Crisis? A 25-year University of Alberta study concludes mid-life crisis doesn't exist.

Happiness actually increases over time, professor says

U of A researcher Nancy Galambos' study concludes the mid-life crisis doesn't exist and that happiness actually increases into a person's 40s. (Supplied)

Crisis? What Crisis? A 25-year University of Alberta study concludes mid-life crisis doesn't exist.

The paper, Up, Not Down: The Age Curve in Happiness from Early Adulthood to Midlife in Two Longitudinal Studies, concludes middle-aged people are happier than the young.

The recently published work based on data drawn from two studies by U of A researchers Nancy Galambos, Harvey Krahn, Matt Johnson and their team contradicts long-standing, accepted research that happiness declines from the early 20s heading towards middle age.

On the contrary, the new data suggests happiness is part of an upward climb beginning in the teen years and early 20s.

"I do think that mid-life crisis is a myth," Galambos, a psychology professor, told CBC on Monday.

"The results (of the paper) question the myth."

The U of A study and others like it, Galambos said, suggest "there can be a crisis at any time in life, and it is not confined to any particular age period."

Galambos and Krahn, award-winning Faculty of Arts researchers, say their paper is more reliable than prior studies.

"I'm not trashing cross-sectional research, but if you want to see how people change as they get older, you have to measure the same individuals over time," sociologist Krahn said in a news release.

Followed two groups for years

The team followed two groups: Canadian high-school seniors from ages 18 to 43 and university seniors from ages 23 to 37. Happiness for both groups increased into the 30s, the study says. There was a drop by age 43 in the high-school sample, but both studies showed a rise in happiness as people aged.

Participants over time were asked how happy they were, what state their health was in, if they were married or not and if they were unemployed, among other general questions, Galambos said.

"We want people to be happier so that they have an easier life trajectory. And also they cost less to the health system, and society."

The paper was initially published online in Developmental Psychology in September.

Other findings from the study:

  • People are happier in their early 40s than they were at age 18.
  • Happiness rises fastest between age 18 and well into the 30s.
  • Happiness is higher in years when people are married and in better physical health, and lower in years when people are unemployed.
  • The rise in happiness between the teens and early 40s is not consistent with a mid-life crisis.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?