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People with happy spouses may live longer

Published: 15th May 2019 Last updated: 16th May 2019

Data show that spousal life satisfaction was associated with mortality

Research suggests that having a happy spouse leads to a longer marriage, and now study results show that it’s associated with a longer life, too. The study by social psychologist Olga Stavrova at Tilburg University was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“The data show that spousal life satisfaction was associated with mortality, regardless of individuals’ socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, or their physical health status,” says study author Olga Stavrova.

Notably, spouses’ life satisfaction was an even better predictor of participants’ mortality than participants’ own life satisfaction. Participants who had a happy partner at the beginning of the study were less likely to pass away over the next 8 years compared with participants who had less happy partners.

“The findings underscore the role of individuals’ immediate social environment in their health outcomes. Most importantly, it has the potential to extend our understanding of what makes up individuals’ ‘social environment’ by including the personality and well-being of individuals’ close ones,” says Stavrova.

Life satisfaction is known to be associated with behaviors that can affect health, including diet and exercise, and people who have a happy, active spouse, for example, are likely to have an active lifestyle themselves. The opposite is also likely to be true, says Stavrova: “If your partner is depressed and wants to spend the evening eating chips in front of the TV — that’s how your evening will probably end up looking, as well.”

Stavrova examined data from a nationally representative survey of about 4,400 couples in the United States who were over the age of 50. The survey, funded by the National Institute on Aging, collected data on participants who had spouses or live-in partners; 99% of the sampled couples were heterosexual.

This research demonstrates that partner life satisfaction may have important consequences for health and longevity. Although the participants in this study were American, Stavrova believes the results are likely to apply to couples outside of the United States, as well.

“This research might have implications for questions such as what attributes we should pay attention to when selecting our spouse or partner and whether healthy lifestyle recommendations should target couples (or households) rather than individuals,” says Stavrova.

Future research could also investigate larger social networks to see if the same pattern of results emerges in the context of other relationships.

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