52 years old pinpointed as the age we start to become ‘grumpy’

‘What laughs 300 times a day as an infant, six times a day as a teenager and a mere 2.5 times a day in old age?’

It’s official – we really do get grumpier as we get older! That’s the verdict of a new study released today which pinpoints 52 as the age when Brits start to lose their sense of humour and the “Victor Meldrew Syndrome” kicks in.

Dave, TV’s home of witty banter, questioned 2000 Brits to produce Dave’s Lifetime Laughter Scale, a report specially commissioned to celebrate the launch of its new comedy show, Dave’s One Night Stand.

The study, which was led by laughter expert Dr. Lesley Harbidge, quizzed respondents on a variety of laughter and humour led questions to determine how much we laugh and what we find funny at different stages throughout our lives. The study reveals the average British adult laughs an average 4 times a day and how much we laugh varies significantly throughout our lives and tends to diminish with age. Research suggests that infants laugh up to 300 times a day but once they become teenagers the average falls to a mere six times a day.

This pattern continues throughout an adult’s twenties when the average Brit laughs four times a day but rises to an average of five daily laughs in an adult’s thirties when having children is cited as a major factor in restoring a sense of humour (46.8%). By the time adults reach the age of 50, Brits laugh just three times a day, decreasing to an average of 2.5 times over the age of 60.

The study found that those aged 50+ were less likely to watch comedy on television, but more likely to complain and spend time worrying than their younger counterparts. Less than a quarter (24.4%) of those aged 50-59 actively seek out comedy shows on TV, compared to 66.32% of teenagers, 69.9% of those aged 20-29 and 69.3% of thirty-somethings. The over 50’s were also far less likely to seek out live comedy with half as many 50-59 year olds (16.9%) as 30-39 year olds (32.43%) attending a live comedy show in the past year. Brits aged 50+ are far more likely to spend time complaining than their younger counterparts. The study found that the over 50’s have written an average of 2.9 complaint letters in the last year alone, rising to 3.5 for the over 60’s, compared to just 1.8 by those in their twenties.

Brits aged 50+ are also far more likely to have experienced a dispute with a neighbour with 51% of the older respondents noting a conflict compared to the national average of 32%. Those in their fifties also spend the longest time of any age group, an average of an hour and 41 minutes, worrying per day; money being the biggest concern with 36.8% worrying about this most, followed by health with 22.8%.

Dave’s Lifetime Laughter Scale also reveals how a sense of humour evolves over the course of a lifetime. In teenage years, we are most likely to find puerile and slapstick humour amusing (53.5% compared to a mere 19.2% of those aged over 50). However, as we get older we tend to laugh more at situations which reflect our own lives.

Indeed, a predisposition to laugh at life’s ups and downs increases steadily from teenagers (25.4%), to 44.7% for twenty year olds, 54.9% for thirty-somethings and peaking for forty year olds at 59%. However, as we hit our fifties, this declines; 12.5% of those in their fifties and 15.3% of the over 60’s are more concerned with planning for retirement than laughing.

Men are grumpier than women as they age – with over twice as many men as women in their fifties (17.4% versus 8.6%) and over four times as many men as women in their sixties (24.3% versus 5.7%) claiming to be more preoccupied with planning for their retirement than laughing. As a nation, Brits laugh at other people’s misfortunes with teenagers finding this type of humour particularly funny (16%). The 50-60 year old age group (11%) finds this mildly amusing but this drops off significantly amongst the over 60’s (5%).


  • 52* pinpointed as the age at which Brits start to lose their sense of humour
  • Teenagers and 50-59 year olds are most likely to laugh at other people’s misfortunes
  • Over 50’s far more likely to write letters of complaint and to have experienced a dispute with a neighbour
  • On average, fifty-somethings laugh half as much as teenagers – just three times a day compared to six
  • 46.8% believe sense of humour improves with children
  • 53.5% of teenagers find slapstick and puerile humour funniest
  • 59% of people in their forties find life’s ups and downs funniest
  • 12.5% of over 50’s are more concerned with planning for retirement than laughing
  • Men in their fifties twice as grumpy as women in their fifties
  • Men in their sixties over four times as grumpy as women in their sixties
  • The average Brit only knows 2 jokes
  • 1/3 of Brits haven’t told a joke in the last year
  • Over one in ten of us (14%) have never told a joke
  • But we are a nation of optimists (just) – 57.6% claim to “always look on the bright side of life”

Dave’s Lifetime Laughter Scale report also revealed that art of telling a joke telling is dying. Over a third of those questioned hadn’t told a joke in the last year, whilst 14.6% had never told one. 84.4% of teenagers had told a joke within the last five years and the average Brit only knows 2 jokes.

Yet for all the worrying and complaining the British public do, we do seem to be a nation of optimists, with 57.6% of us claiming we “always look on the bright side of life.”

Laughter expert Dr. Lesley Harbidge of Glamorgan University, said of the scale: “Dave’s Lifetime Laughter Scale shows that there really is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to laughter. We laugh twice as much in our teens as we do in our 50s. And our findings suggest that it’s all downhill from 52. It’s important to remember how good laughter is for you: it releases endorphins and a little laughter every day goes a long way to reducing stress. Ironically, it’s life’s ups and downs that make us laugh the most the older we get, yet we actively seek out comedy less and less. Precisely to counteract everyday stresses and strains, we certainly ought to be watching more comedy!”

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