Age and the Tenses of Life Satisfaction

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People have a special capacity to live simultaneously in both chronological and biographical time. In this article, we examine reports of life satisfaction that span past, present, and future, considering how perceived changes in certain life domains are associated with overall perceived life trajectories.


Analyses use men and women from the Midlife Development in the United States survey. We employ gender-stratified fixed effects regression models to examine the net effect of satisfaction with finances, partnerships/marriage, sex, contribution to others, work, health, and relationship with children on trajectories of overall life satisfaction.


Among men, partnership and financial satisfaction had the strongest association with life satisfaction. Women displayed a somewhat broader range of domains related to their trajectories of life satisfaction. Partnership was most important, but their sense of evolving life satisfaction was also tied to their relationship with their children, sexuality, work situation, contribution to others’ welfare, and financial situation.


We find several notable differences between men and women, but the most telling differences emerge among women themselves across chronological time. For women, partner satisfaction becomes considerably more important across the age groups, whereas sex, contribution to others, and relationships with children all decrease in their importance for overall life satisfaction.

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