By Brook Thomas
Have you ever answered a survey only to be reminded about what age you actually are? In an interesting test of the effects of age on happiness, we randomly assigned two groups of respondents, all aged 35, to select their age from a list of age brackets.
- Group A was shown a frequency list including the answer option 35-54.
- Group B was shown a frequency list including the answer option 18-35.
Those who were forced to select an age group putting them at the bottom of their bracket reported a lower degree of happiness compared to those whose age group put them at the top of their bracket (average happiness scores of 3.40 vs. 3.62; p=0.056). Similarly, in terms of raw responses, 23.2% of Group A reported lower than average happiness, compared to 16.1% of Group B.
Shouldn’t people whose age is at the bottom of an age bracket be happier, pleased that they are on the younger side of their age bracket? Indeed, it seems just the opposite is the case. Perhaps those people were disappointed that they now ‘qualified’ for an older age bracket – they could no longer fit in with the younger 18 to 34 year old group. And those at the top of an age bracket could only feel relief that they were still in the ‘young’ group.’
What is our take-away? Always remember that even the slightest, seemingly unimportant survey design can affect your results. Be wary of the potential consequences of your chosen break points. Depending on your survey topic, it could affect your results!
Read more: Is Facebook the only emotional manipulator?