Consumer sentiment is ending the year on the upswing.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index posted a stronger-than-expected gain to 78.1 this month from 72 in November. Economists projected confidence would rise to just 76.

The Present Situation Index portion of the overall measure of consumer sentiment rose to 76.2 from 73.5, while The Expectations Index increased to 79.4 from 71.1.

“Sentiment regarding current conditions increased to a five-and-a-half year high, with consumers attributing the improvement to more favorable economic and labor market conditions,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the research group. “Looking ahead, consumers expressed a greater degree of confidence in future economic and job prospects, but were moderately more pessimistic about their earning prospects. Despite the many challenges throughout 2013, consumers are in better spirits today than when the year began.”

Among those surveyed by the Conference Board, 17.1 percent see more jobs in the months ahead, up sharply from 13.1 percent in November.