Frequent critical events worsen long-term well-being

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A new indicator measures the concentration of critical events in the life course. Based on data from the Swiss Household Panel, a team of researchers from the universities of Bologna, Bocconi (Milan), and Lausanne integrates the number of experienced events along with the time lag between occurrences to create this new "concentration index." The higher the concentration of critical events, the more negatively they impact long-term well-being, thus demonstrating their cumulative effect. Unfortunately, positive events do not compensate for this loss of well-being. On the contrary, they can sometimes further worsen the sense of satisfaction.

The WELLWAYS study examines how critical life events and their temporal concentration influence life satisfaction. The researchers suggest that events from different domains often co-occur, making it crucial to consider their cumulative effects since of life domains (residence, family, work and health) are interdependent. They propose that life phases densely populated with critical events could lead to a more pronounced resource drain and affect well-being more significantly than if events were spread out.

A new indicator to evaluate the long-term effect of critical events

The concentration index (CI) developed by the researchers is a holistic measure of the concentration of critical events over the life course. In particular, it highlights the cumulative effects of events on life satisfaction, underlining both general trends and gender-specific dynamics. People with a high CI are mostly women, or young respondents with a secondary education.

The researchers note that a higher CI of critical events throughout life is linked to lower satisfaction later in life, particularly among women, irrespective of their socio-demographic characteristics. The concentration of negative events has a stronger impact on dissatisfaction in men, while in women the interaction between the concentration of positive and negative events is more complex. High concentrations of one type of event or another reduce life satisfaction, suggesting that the co-occurrence of events plays a role. Other gender differences are apparent: men's well-being is more severely affected by the concentration of events, even when the events are positive. Men experience a greater negative impact in later adulthood, while women are more affected in their youth and when family events were concentrated.

Facts and figures

  • Évènements : each single occurrence, counting multiple occurrences per year.
  • Années évènements : the years (age) in which at least one critical life event was reported. For each event-year, researchers counted how many events actually happened.
  • In this study, the CI ranges from 0 to 0.974, illustrating varying event concentration profiles.
  • The participants' experience of event-years (years in which at least one critical life event was reported) ranged from 2 to 50, with an average of 10, while the overall number of events ranged from 2 to 281, averaging around 15 events over their lifetimes.
  • Women generally experienced more event-years and events, particularly health and work-related events.
  • Health issues and residential moves occurred most frequently, happening about once every decade for men and more frequently for women. Family events occurred somewhat less often, while work-related events were the rarest.


Full article

Chiara L. Comolli, Danilo Bolano, Laura Bernardi, Marieke Voorpostel. "Concentration of Critical Events Over the Life Course and Life Satisfaction Later in Life". LIVES Working papers. 2023;98.

doi: 10.12682/lives.2296-1658.2023.98