Is 47.2 Really the Most Miserable Age?

I interviewed some 47.2-year-olds to find out.

A miserable 47.2 year old eating breakfast.
Getty Images Plus.

A Dartmouth economist has pegged what he claims is the most miserable age: 47.2 years old. A new study by David Blanchflower, collecting data about well-being and age from 132 countries, suggests that for people in developed nations, the “happiness curve” reaches its perigee at precisely 47.2 years. Those are the doldrums of middle age.

For someone like me who feels plenty of middle-aged misery but is not yet 47.2, this statistic is daunting! I’m not gonna see an upswing for another 2.14 years? I decided to talk to some actual 47.2-year-olds to find out what it is about 47.2-hood that’s so miserable, and how I can escape their horrible fate.

First of all, for the record, some 47.2-year-olds are perfectly happy, thank you. Darcy, 47.15, is worried about the state of the world, but her own life in New York City is “fantastic. I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor (both personally and professionally).” Geoff, a 47.28-year-old from Edmonton, says, “I’m loving 47.2, so many great things happening!”

But I heard from plenty of 47.2-year-olds as to why that specific age might be so tough. For many women, 47.2 puts you right in the middle of peri-menopause, which was cited as a cause of migraines, sleep deprivation, an other misery-inducing symptoms. “The number of funerals of people important to me has been kind of disturbing over the last decade,” notes Doug, 47.24, from Louisville, KY. Elizabeth, 47.25, from Washington, DC, speculates that “most people have close friends a couple of years older, and so now at 47 we’re seeing them all starting to turn 50, and so that milestone suddenly seems imminent.” And what about kids? The average age when Americans have their first children is 26.3, which means at 47.2 those kids are just about to turn 21. Maybe it’s extra depressing that your kid is about to be able to drink without you.

And of course there’s the simple fact that at 47.2, your body is becoming more and more decrepit, and death is on its way. “One has passed the tipping point beyond which one is unlikely to live longer than one has already lived,” says Tom, 47.19, from London. “Suddenly the ticking of the clock grows that much louder. Also, hemorrhoids.”

I’m heartened, though, that hardly anyone I spoke to at the dread age of 47.2 thought they are actually peak miserable. Darcy (47.15) and Tom (47.19) both identified their 20s as way more miserable. Tina from Cleveland may be 47.10 years old, but she was way more miserable back when she was 46, before she switched jobs.

The figure of 47.2 is of course simply a quirk of statistical analysis, but several people I spoke to cited that precise age as a kind of turning point in their lives. Chicagoan Scott, 48.4, tells me he started therapy at 47.2, nearly to the day. And Jenna, who lives in Boston and just turned 47.5, recalls that way back at 47.2 she had “a come-to-Jesus moment.” “It was like a light switch,” she says. “I made some decisions to take a different approach and am slowly getting there.” On the other hand, for some, 47.2 flew by without them ever noticing how unhappy they truly were. Denver resident Holly is now 49.41, but she went back through her social media to see how she was feeling the day she turned 47.2.

Dear Chipotle Mexican Grill, I was so excited to try your “genuine” queso. I’m sorry to tell you that it is not edible. Even with added tomatoes. #bummer #howdoyouruincheese

Pretty miserable!

The good news for all of us is how much Blanchflower’s research suggests things improve after 47.2. “Really ready for that happiness curve to start working its magic in the other direction,” says Jill, a 47.46-year-old from Cincinnati. “Maybe as you approach 50, acceptance begins to set in. That’s what I’m hoping for. We get used to things, and learn to appreciate what we’ve got. Or we go full grumpy and stop answering surveys.”