Optimism appears to be a key element to living longer, according to a study cited in this post. It focuses on the recent decline in life expectancy for a specific group of Americans: middle-aged whites with less than a college education. Some analysts have attributed the higher death rate to addictions and financial distress, both of which lead to higher suicide rates. But the study argues that a decline in optimism is a factor, though it appears that there’s a link between higher education and higher levels of optimism.
To make the link between mortality and optimism, Kelsey O’Connor at STATEC Research in Luxembourg and Carol Graham at the Brookings Institution examined whether heads of households surveyed back in 1968 through 1975 were still alive four to five decades later. They controlled for demographic characteristics and socioeconomic factors, such as education, which also affect longevity.
One group clearly emerged as having the biggest increase in their level of optimism: women who are the head of their households, perhaps because of widening job options for women, including single mothers, starting in the late 1980s.
The researchers said they don’t want to overlook something else that is going on but is difficult to tease out – that optimism and education can reinforce each other, and, in turn, influence longevity.