’78 and ’18 survey members about well-being

When it comes to happiness and life satisfaction, how do the classes of 1978 and 2018 compare? Researchers turned to both classes to find out, creating a survey that asked about background and family, health, career, and plans for the future. The results were presented during a Reunions panel. 

The findings are consistent with those of national surveys and studies: Perceptions of well-being and happiness occur in a sort of inverted bell curve — life satisfaction is very high in the early 20s, but dips around the mid-40s and 50s before increasing again. After midlife, people are happier because they come to terms with their life circumstances and are not as affected by disappointment. On a scale of 0 to 10, the Class of ’78 reported a mean “overall life satisfaction” of 8.1, while the Class of ’18 had a mean of 7.4. 

“Young people are systematically optimistic,” said Hannes Schwandt, an assistant professor at the University of Zurich and a guest of the Princeton Center for Health and Wellbeing, who presented the findings. “You pay a price of disappointment midlife.” 

There was a positive relationship between higher household net worth and higher life satisfaction. But while money buys better living standards, it doesn’t necessarily correlate to higher satisfaction with family life and relationships, Schwandt said. 

About the same percentage of members of the two classes were the first generation in their family to attend college, were members of eating clubs, and were satisfied with their friendships. Members of 1978 were more likely to have graduated from a U.S. high school and to think of themselves as spiritual people. Members of ’18 were more likely to feel that Princeton was a welcoming place and to volunteer regularly for community service. 

The project was inspired by a similar one presented at Harvard University.