Happiness and health across the lifespan in five major cities: The impact of place and government performance

Michael J. Hogan, Kevin M. Leyden, Ronan Conway, Abraham Goldberg, Deirdre Walsh, Phoebe E. McKenna-Plumley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


A growing body of research suggests that urban design has an effect on health and well-being. There have been very few studies to date, however, that compare these effects across the lifespan.

The current study examines the direct and indirect effects of the city environment on happiness. It was hypothesised that citizens’ ratings of their city along dimensions of performance (e.g., basic – usually government – services related to education, healthcare, social services, and policing) and place (e.g., the beauty of the city and a built environment that provides access to cultural, sport, park, transport, and shopping amenities) would be significant predictors of happiness but that the nature of these effects would change over the lifespan.

5000 adults aged 25–85 years old living in Berlin, Paris, London, New York, and Toronto completed the Quality of Life Survey in 2007. Respondents reported their happiness levels and evaluated their city along place and performance dimensions.

The results of the study demonstrate an interesting, and complex relationship between the city environment and happiness of residents across the lifespan. Findings suggest that the happiness of younger residents is a function of having easy access to cultural, shopping, transport, parks and sport amenities and the attractiveness of their cities (i.e. place variables). The happiness of older residents is associated more with the provision of quality governmental services (i.e., performance variables). Place and performance variables also have an effect on health and social connections, which are strongly linked to happiness for all residents.

Younger adults’ happiness is more strongly related to the accessibility of amenities that add to the quality of a city’s cultural and place characteristics; older adults’ happiness is more strongly related to the quality of services provided within a city that enable residents to age in place. These results indicate that, in order to be all things to all people, cities should emphasize quality services (e.g., good policing, schools, healthcare access), beauty and character, and provide easy access to transport amenities and cultural and recreational opportunities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-176
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date18 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


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