【媒库文选】为何经济学家认为47.2岁是最痛苦的年龄

2020-10-14 15:52   参考消息网  

Why economists believe 47.2 is our most miserable age

为何经济学家认为47.2岁是最痛苦的年龄

Tim Harford 蒂姆·哈福德

A few days ago, up popped a reminder that I had written myself back in January: “Blanchflower: Misery peaks at age 47.2”.

For years David Blanchflower, an economist, has been investigating the determinants of “subjective wellbeing” . Along with colleagues such as Carol Graham and Andrew Oswald, Blanchflower has focused on the way wellbeing seems to change over the course of each person's life. And with some of this work catching the headlines in January, I made a note to circle back to the topic.

Reader, I just turned 47. Peak misery awaits me at the end of November, when I will turn 47.2. And the idea doesn't seem nearly as funny to me now as it did during the happy, heady days of January.

The idea that happiness varies systematically over the course of our lives, with highs for the young and the old, and lows for those of us in middle age,is controversial. Part of the problem is that, as economist and happiness scholar Justin Wolfers puts it:“People tend to be incredibly unclear what they're trying to measure, or why.”

Should we, for example, try to measure “raw” wellbeing or adjust for other variables? People with jobs, income, spouses and good health tend to be happier than people without, other things being equal — and people of my age are reasonably likely to have all of those things.

There is also the question of whether the data is showing us a problem that afflicts any group of people as they hit middle age, or something more specific to Generation X (born 1965-80). A new study by Anne Case,Nobel laureate Angus Deaton and Arthur Stone finds that the fiftysomethings have been caught in the crossfire of two offsetting effects. People are more likely to suffer from painful ill health as they age, yet pain has worsened for each successive American generation. Those born in 1970 are more likely to suffer from pain at the age of (say) 40 than those born in 1960, who in turn suffer more than those born in 1950. What Case, Deaton and Stone are finding is not a mid life problem but a swelling wave of suffering rolling through the generations.

Blanchflower, Graham and Oswald are confident that their findings stack up, though: mid-life misery, they believe, is a robust reality. What is more,it's a substantial effect, “comparable to major life events like losing a spouse, losing a job or getting cancer”.

Misery has other ramifications, too. A new study, “(Un)Happiness and voting in US Presidential elections”, finds that the best predictor of voting for Donald Trump in 2016 was being unhappy or dissatisfied with your lot. That makes sense: if establishment politicians have failed to protect you from misery, it seems less crazy to roll the dice on a reality TV star, at least while he is the challenger rather than an incumbent.

But exactly how we should respond to this phenomenon is unclear. Oswald and colleagues have found evidence of a midlife crisis in orang-utans and chimpanzees in zoos. This suggests that there may be something fundamental happening. It also suggests there may be little we can do about it.

Oswald thinks that it is worth simply acknowledging that the midlife crisis is a robust statistical phenomenon. And he argues that we need “a mid-life policy of some kind”.

Perhaps. Generation X tends to fly under the radar in the culture war between boomers and millennials but we are the ones running the world. Most of the British cabinet, for example, are Gen-X-ers like me. So you'd think that taking care of 47-year-olds was something they'd have sorted out, almost by default. Then again, you'd think they'd have sorted out a coronavirus strategy and Brexit, too, but life is full of disappointments — particularly if you are about to hit 47.2.

前几天,突然弹出一条提示,是我1月时写给自己的:“布兰奇弗劳尔认为:人到47.2岁时,痛苦达到顶峰。”

多年来,经济学家戴维·布兰奇弗劳尔一直在研究“主观幸福感”的决定因素。布兰奇弗劳尔和同事卡萝尔·格雷厄姆及安德鲁·奥斯瓦尔德等人一道,着重探讨幸福感在每个人生命历程中似乎会产生变化这一点。有些研究成果在1月成了大新闻,于是我记下了这句,以便日后回看这个话题。

读者,我刚满47岁。痛苦的顶峰将在11月底降临,那时我就47.2岁了。而这个观点此刻对我而言似乎一点也不像在1月愉快兴奋之时那么可笑了。

幸福感在我们生命历程中有条不紊地起伏,在年轻人和老年人身上达到高峰,在我们这种中年人身上降至低谷——这一观点是有争议的。症结的一部分在于,正如经济学家兼幸福学学者贾斯廷·沃尔弗斯所言:“人们往往完全不清楚他们要去衡量什么,也不知道为何要衡量这些。”

比如,我们是应该去衡量“原始”幸福感,还是根据其他变量做出调整?在其他条件相同的情况下,拥有工作、收入、配偶及良好健康状况的人往往比没有这些的人更加幸福——而合乎情理的是,我这个年纪的人很可能拥有所有这些。

此外,还有一个疑问,这个数据展现的问题是所有人群到了中年都会遭遇的,还是X一代(出生于1965年至1980年)独有的。安妮·凯斯、诺贝尔奖得主安格斯·迪顿以及阿瑟·斯通开展的一项新研究发现,50岁上下的人受到两种互为补偿的效应夹攻。出现令人痛苦的健康状况欠佳局面的概率随着年龄增长而上升,而痛苦的程度在美国人身上一代更比一代加剧。生于1970年的人比生于1960年的人更有可能在(比方说)40岁时受到痛苦的折磨,而生于1960年的人又比生于1950年的人承受更大痛苦。凯斯、迪顿和斯通发现的不是中年问题,而是席卷一代代人的日益高涨的痛苦浪潮。

不过,布兰奇弗劳尔、格雷厄姆及奥斯瓦尔德确信,他们的研究成果说得通:他们认为,中年痛苦是不争的事实。不仅如此,它产生了实实在在的影响,“堪比失去配偶、丢掉工作或患上癌症等人生重大事件”。

痛苦还会产生其他后果。一篇题为《美国总统选举中的(不)幸福感与投票取向》的新研究报告发现,2016年投票支持唐纳德·特朗普的最佳预示因素是不幸福或者说对命运感到不满。这合情合理:如果当权的政客未能让你免受痛苦折磨,那么把赌注押在一名电视真人秀明星身上似乎就不那么疯狂了,至少在他是挑战者而不是现任总统的情况下。

但是,我们到底该如何应对这一现象尚无定论。奥斯瓦尔德和同事在动物园的猩猩和黑猩猩身上发现了中年危机的证据。这表明或许有什么根本性的事情在发生。这还意味着我们或许对此无能为力。

奥斯瓦尔德认为,有必要干脆承认中年危机是有统计数据支持的一个不争的现象。他认为,我们需要“某种中年保单”。

或许如此。在婴儿潮一代与千禧一代的文化交锋中,X一代往往保持低调,但我们是世界的主宰。比如,英国内阁的大部分成员都是像我这样的X一代。所以你会以为他们已经安排好要关照47岁的人,这几乎是默认的。还有,你会以为他们也已经安排好新冠病毒应对策略和脱欧事务,不过生活充满了失望——特别是在你快到47.2岁的时候。(李凤芹译自英国《金融时报》网站10月2日文章)

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