A friend of mine emailed me this story about the low job satisfaction of associate professors. I haven't seen the actual study design or data, but I do know of a lot of people post tenure who felt the "what's next" or "is this it" blues.
My quick personal thoughts.
1. The people who are assistants, associates, and fulls aren't random. Assistants are in the pool for 6 years and either they are promoted or fired. Associates are either promoted or left as associates. That means we can have a bunch of very angry associates in the pool for a very long time. This is a pretty obvious research design issue that I'm sure most academics see right away.
2. These ranks could be correlated with age and we're really just measuring the standard midlife crisis. Are convertible sport car purchases correlated with rank as well? Pretty obvious stuff.
3. It is interesting to me that associates have lower scores on every aspect of the job (teaching, research, institutional support), etc. This would fit with the above points. It also could be due to the expectation of change post tenure. Day to day life doesn't change to much right after tenure, but many people might expect it to.
4. My wife and I had a son post-tenure. This wasn't a professional decision. It just took us a long time to warm up to having a child. Now that Walter is here, this has been probably the best year of my life. (This month is Dino-June, where I'm making Walter lego dinosaurs and he destroys them). But I think my job satisfication is probably lower than it was as an assistant. Let's not confuse job satisfaction with happiness.
I'm not sure I've said anything too insightful here. But I did read Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness a few summers ago. Very interesting summary of happiness research and some points on personal happiness.