In a recent study published in the Scientific Reports Journal, researchers evaluated the effects of age and income on human well-being.
Study: Income raises human well-being indefinitely, but age consistently slashes it. Image Credit: DisobeyArt/Shutterstock.com
The relationship between age, well-being, and income is poorly defined. It is theorized that higher income will eventually reach a ceiling point at which well-being does not improve with income.
Studies have revealed that income is positively associated with subjective well-being (SWB). Although increased income benefits for SWB diminish gradually, the overall impact of income remains positive.
About the study
In the present study, researchers examined the effects of income, age, and other variables on human well-being, using the Gallup World Poll (GWP) dataset.
Records were collected from more than 2.4 million individuals from 168 countries/regions. The hedonic well-being approach, focusing on daily experienced feelings/moods, was leveraged to measure SWB.
The Gallup survey measured ten daily experienced feelings and moods – stress, anger, worry, sadness, pain, enjoyment, interest in something, smiling/laughing, and feeling respected or well-rested.
Respondents were asked to indicate if they had experienced any of them during the previous day. These served as the explanatory variables of life evaluation.
They also reported if there had been instances in the past year when they could not buy sufficient food or provide adequate shelter.
They were asked to indicate any health problems which prevented them from performing tasks that people their age could typically do. The relationships among variables were interpreted using a directed acyclic graph (DAG).
Additionally, the researchers built a structural causal model (SCM) using 26 variables. The total cumulative effects of age on life evaluation and the natural logarithm of individual income and the natural logarithm of individual income on life evaluation were estimated.
The final (GWP) dataset comprised 1.6 million records from 163 countries/regions for the 2009-22 period. The total cumulative effects of age on life evaluation were, on average, -6.1 x 10-3. The negative value meant that higher age was negatively related to life evaluation.
The total cumulative effects decreased when the age was > 70, possibly due to selection bias, as the number of observations for this age group was relatively lower than for others.
Increased age resulted in a decrease in life evaluation following any pathway in the DAG. That is, a higher age aggravated most factors influencing life evaluation.
The total cumulative effects of individual income on life evaluation were, on average, 0.146, peaking at around 6.5, i.e., 665 USD/year. Increased income contributed the most to well-being up to the poverty line.
Contributions of higher income to well-being decreased but were always positive. Increased income consistently elevated SWB, albeit the effects gradually moderated with income.
The total cumulative effects of age on individual income ranged between -3.33 x 10-3 and -9.58 x 10-3, averaging at -2.15 x 10-3. Increased age always causes a potential decline in income, with a more significant effect among older individuals.
The authors noted that the absolute values of the effects of age on life evaluation were much more significant in countries in Europe, Oceania, and North America than in other countries.
The adverse effects of age on life evaluation were minor in Europeans compared to Asians/Africans. On the other hand, the positive effects of increased income on life evaluation were maximized in Africa due to poverty. The effects of age on income were like that on life evaluation.
The researchers observed that higher age reduced well-being, whereas increased income improved well-being. Although they used one of the largest global datasets, improvements could be possible if more data were available.
For instance, the causal relationship between income and age could be elaborately assessed if data on educational level and work experience, among others, were available.
Moreover, although GWP covered a long period, observations in each wave (of the survey) were randomly sampled instead of surveying the same subjects.
Overall, interventions for improving health in aging societies remain the most effective means to improve/maintain human well-being. While a higher age, per se, is not detrimental to well-being, it could lead to physical/mental health issues that might deteriorate overall well-being.
Further, the effectiveness of a higher income is profound when the initial income is low. Nonetheless, increased income constantly improved well-being because its effects were positive in most pathways in the DAG.