The wrong time to be fifty: middle-aged people are more stressed in the 21st Century
Life is more stressful for middle-aged people now than in the 1990s, a study has found.
Life is more stressful now than in the 1990s, especially for the middle-aged, those aged 45 to 64, new research from Penn State University has found.
Middle age can be one of the most challenging times in life thanks to increased stressors such as arguments with friends and family and feeling overworked.
By looking at data collected from American adults of all ages in 1995 and in 2012, the team discovered that on average, people had two percent more stressors now than in the past. But this figure jumps up to nearly 20 per cent amongst the middle-aged.
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“That's around an additional week of stress a year,” said Professor David M. Almeida, one of the study’s authors. “But what really surprised us is that people at mid-life reported about 19 per cent more stress in 2010 than in 1990. And that translates to 64 more days of stress a year.”
The participants in the study were primarily white, with over half having some or a complete college education. They were asked to recount their stressful experiences in an interview with researchers each day for eight days straight.
“We were able to estimate not only how frequently people experienced stress, but also what those stressors mean to them,” Almeida said.
Those who were middle-aged in 2012 believed their stress posed a 27 per cent higher risk to their finances than those in 1995, and a 17 per cent increase in the risk to their future plans.
“We thought that with the economic uncertainty [of the present time], life might be more stressful for younger adults,” said Almeida. “But we didn’t see that. We saw more stress for people at mid-life.
"And maybe that’s because they have children who are facing an uncertain job market while also responsible for their own parents. So, it's this generational squeeze that's making stress more prevalent for people at mid-life.”
Reader Q&A: Can money bring happiness?
Asked by: Charlotte Taylor, Bournemouth
No. In fact, a 2014 study at the University of California, Berkeley found that being very rich or very poor were both associated with higher levels of mental illness. This doesn’t necessarily mean that money (or the lack of it) drives you mad.
The study found that those at risk of bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder tended to be more proud of their achievements and more determined to pursue power at the expense of personal relationships. These are people who are more likely to make a lot of money, but if their personality disorder gets the better of them, they can also end up unemployed or bankrupt.
Several studies have also looked at the long-term happiness of lottery winners and found that it didn’t improve much. Sudden wealth can actually prevent you from enjoying the simple things you used to, like hearing a good joke or watching TV.
Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.