"It is not ageing as such which results in declining happiness but rather the circumstances associated with ageing," said Orsolya Lelkes, author of the March 2008 survey entitled 'Happiness Across the Life Cycle: Exploring Age-Specific Preferences'.
Health and income appear to be the main contributors to life satisfaction, thus "deteriorating" health and lower income increase unhappiness. Over the age of 60, external circumstances such as poor health, marital status or social isolation contribute to a declining sense of wellbeing. In addition, around the age of 70, the loss of a spouse plays an important role.
In half of the EU member states, the elderly "seem to be less exposed to the risk of financial poverty than the working population" thanks to pension provisions, according to the report. However, those over 70 appear to face more difficulties and are poorer than the other age groups.
Young people are the happiest of all the groups, the survey reveals. Although the middle-aged receive the highest incomes, they are the most dissatisfied group, with the highest levels of unhappiness among those around the age of 45. They are also the most likely to be unemployed, "a key factor" in discontent.
Moreover, this cross-country study seeks to determine whether the attitudes and preferences of the elderly are comparable to the other age groups. It suggests that aspirations and preferences tend to change throughout life, partially justifying the varying level of life satisfaction. While the importance of family and friends remains constant over the years, interest in religion increases and the importance of leisure decreases.
The report argues that a significant cause of dissatisfaction comes from the gap between aspirations and achievements. For instance, in the working-age group, individuals may be affected by unemployment, whereas the elderly are more concerned about the departure of children or the loss of a spouse.
Highlighting the impact income has on wellbeing, the author concludes that "higher income groups are happier in all age groups". Furthermore, marriage constitutes another source of happiness as married people are the most satisfied with their lives.
The survey concludes that happiness has an influence on longevity as those who are happy live longer.