While humans, particularly men, are often prone to the crisis of buying motorbikes and swanky new cars to compensate for the panic of reaching middle age, it seems our great ape ancestors go through a similar process.
“We hoped to understand a famous scientific puzzle: why does human happiness follow an approximate U-shape through life?” said Warwick University’s Professor Andrew Oswald.
“We ended up showing that it cannot be because of mortgages, marital break-up, mobile phones, or any of the other paraphernalia of modern life. Apes also have a pronounced midlife low, and they have none of those.”
The behaviour of more than 500 captive orang-utans and chimpanzees was monitored by volunteers, researchers and zoo keepers all over the world. The results showed that wellbeing in the apes dipped during their middle years – in their late twenties and early thirties – then recovered again.
“We took a step back and asked whether it’s possible that instead of the midlife crisis being human-specific, and driven only by social factors, it reflects some evolved tendency for middle-aged individuals to have lower wellbeing,” Edinburgh University’s Alex Weiss told The Guardian.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and entitled ‘Evidence for a midlife crisis in great apes consistent with the U-shape in human well-being’.