Home » News » Parenting » Happy Teens Tend to Be Happy Adults, But More Likely to Divorce

Happy Teens Tend to Be Happy Adults, But More Likely to Divorce

Although a troubled childhood has been linked to unhappy adult years, there has been little in the way of studies examining what becomes of a happy child. Now psychologists from the University of Cambridge and the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing have identified a link between positive teen years and a sense of well-being in midlife.

Researchers used data from 2,776 individuals who participated in the 1946 British birth cohort study.  Teachers rated students (at ages 13 and 15) on levels of happiness, friendship and energy. A student received a positive point for each of the following four characteristics:  very popular with other children; unusually happy and contented; makes friends extremely easily; and extremely energetic, never tired.

Students were also rated for negative conduct (restlessness, daydreaming, disobedience, lying, etc) and emotional problems (anxiety, fearfulness, diffidence, avoidance of attention, etc).  Researchers also adjusted for social class of origin, childhood intelligence and education.

These ratings were then linked to the participants’ mental health, relationships, work experience and social activities several decades later. Teens who had been rated positively by their teachers were far more likely than those who received no positive ratings to have higher levels of well-being in their middle years.  This included higher work satisfaction, more frequent contact with family and friends, and more regular engagement in social and leisure activities.

Happy teens were also 60 percent less likely to have developed a mental disorder throughout their lifetime than those who had no positive ratings.

On the other hand, there was no link between being a happy child and having an increased likelihood of getting married.  In fact, “happy” children were more likely to get divorced. Researchers hypothesize that perhaps happier people have stronger self-esteem or self-efficacy and are therefore more willing and able to leave a bad marriage.

“The benefits to individuals, families and to society of good mental health, positive relationships and satisfying work are likely to be substantial,” said Dr. Felicia Huppert, one of the authors of the paper and director of the Well-being Institute at the University of Cambridge.

“The findings support the view that even at this time of great financial hardship, policymakers should prioritize the well-being of our children so they have the best possible start in life.”

Dr. Marcus Richards, co-author of the paper from the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, said, “Most longitudinal studies focus on the negative impact of early mental problems, but the 1946 birth cohort also shows clear and very long-lasting positive consequences of mental well-being in childhood.”

Source:  University of Cambridge

Happy Teens Tend to Be Happy Adults, But More Likely to Divorce

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Happy Teens Tend to Be Happy Adults, But More Likely to Divorce. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 28 Feb 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.