Survey Of Older Adults Reveals What People Really Consider The Best Years Of Their Life

Here's a hint: it's not your 20s.

Happy people hugging together Shutterstock

Spanish researcher Begoña Álvarez with the Department of Applied Economics at Vigo University conducted a study to determine what the best years of older Europeans’ lives were.

“This paper offers new evidence on the life-cycle pattern of happiness,” reads the abstract. “A novelty of the analysis is that it exploits information on the period individuals recall as the happiest in their lives.”


When are the best years of your life?

According to one survey, ages 30-34 are generally regarded as the best years of your life — at least according to older adults. 

The data comes from a SHARELIFE survey conducted in 2008/09 which included 13 European countries among individuals aged 50 or more.

Álvarez used a dataset spanning the entire lifespan of respondents with a restriction of ages above 10 years old — despite data being shown for those ages for descriptive purposes.

RELATED: 7 Ways Childhood Adversity Can Drastically Change Your Brain

Evidence from psychology and behavioral economics,” he says, “shows that how we remember and assess the past—in terms of subjective well-being—does not necessarily coincide with the feelings and emotions we actually experienced.”


Álvarez wanted to capture that retrospective analysis of the decisions adults made in their younger years and reflect on the times in which they thought they were having the most fun.

The data sample is comprised of 26,836 individuals who either participated in one of the two waves of the survey, or both.

“The estimates indicate that the likelihood of achieving the happiest period in life increases substantially between childhood and the ages of 30–34, where it achieves the maximum.”

The graph looks like an upside-down ‘U’, where the younger ages seem to ramp up exponentially until the maximum number of votes landed around ages 30-34. The ages after that decline at a more linear rate.


RELATED: Happy Wife, Happy Life? Science Says 'Yes'

Even when including controls for sociodemographic characteristics, the pattern stayed relatively the same — only differing a little when you looked at different genders.

Women had sharper inclines when nearing the age of 30-34, resulting in much sharper declines after the turning point.

While men didn’t have quite the same incline, their older years declined more steadily, showing that men are happier people in the later stages of their lives in comparison to women.

“At this point, it is important to remark that individuals’ happiest periods are long on average: for half of respondents this period lasts two decades or longer.”


Why the ages 30-34 are the best years of your life. 

When compared to known correlations of Subjective Well-Being (SWB), the ages that people answered were their happiest coincides.

Things like labor status, marital status, childbirth, family events, are all considered for the survey and these appeared to be positive factors during the younger years of the 30s.

By that point, a lot of people are already out of school and well developed into the workforce.

These adults probably have their own place and are looking for a partner to grow their own family with or have already started a family and are enjoying the childhood of their offspring.

Meanwhile, many of the people answering the survey were entering their later years as parents and are likely being introduced to their grandkids — seeing the whole family together at reunions and holidays.


What all of this shows is that retrospective reflection on the best years of your life trend towards the younger years.

Álvarez concludes the study by stating that “there is no perfect measure of subjective well-being,” and that it would be important to consider alternative indicators that might alter one’s answers.

This study consists of the current older generations who live in Europe, and it remains to be seen how the current younger generations will feel when they are that age, but it seems unlikely that it would change much.


RELATED: 28 Tips For Living A Happy Life Every Single Glorious Day

Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and politics. Follow him on Twitter here.