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Longer, more optimistic, lives: Historic optimism and life expectancy in the United States

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  • O'Connor, Kelsey J.
  • Graham, Carol

Abstract

How was optimism related to mortality before the rise in “deaths of despair” that began in the late 1990s? Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we show that as early as 1968 more optimistic people lived longer. The relationship depends on many factors including gender, race, health, and education. We then evaluate these and other variables as correlates of individual optimism over the period 1968–1975. We find women and African Americans were less optimistic at the time than men and whites, although this changed beginning in the late 1970′s. Greater education is associated with greater optimism and so is having wealthy parents. We then predict optimism for the same individuals in subsequent years, thus generating our best guess as to how optimism changed for various demographic groups from 1976–1995. We find people with less than a high school degree had the greatest declines in optimism, a trend with long-run links to premature mortality and deaths of despair. Our findings highlight the importance of better understanding optimism's causes and consequences.

Suggested Citation

  • O'Connor, Kelsey J. & Graham, Carol, 2019. "Longer, more optimistic, lives: Historic optimism and life expectancy in the United States," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 168(C), pages 374-392.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:168:y:2019:i:c:p:374-392
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2019.10.018
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Progress paradoxes in China, India, and the US: A tale of growing but unhappy countries
      by Carol Graham, Sergio Pinto in Up Front on 2018-10-20 13:27:57

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    Cited by:

    1. Carol Graham & Barton H. Hamilton & Yung Chun & Stephen Roll & Will Ross & Karen E. Joynt-Maddox & Michal Grinstein-Weiss, 2020. "Coping with COVID-19: Implications of Differences in Resilience across Racial Groups for Mental Health and Well-being," Working Papers 2020-067, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    2. O'Connor, Kelsey J., 2020. "The effect of immigration on natives’ well-being in the European Union," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 180(C), pages 257-274.
    3. Kelsey J. O'Connor, 2020. "Life Satisfaction and Noncognitive Skills: Effects on the Likelihood of Unemployment," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 73(4), pages 568-604, November.
    4. Emma Pleeging & Martijn Burger & Job Exel, 2021. "Hope Mediates the Relation between Income and Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 22(5), pages 2075-2102, June.
    5. Carol Graham & Julia Ruiz Pozuelo, 2021. "Do High Aspirations Lead to Better Outcomes? Evidence from a Longitudinal Survey of Adolescents in Peru," Working Papers 2021-004, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    6. Graham, Carol & Pinto, Sergio, 2021. "The geography of desperation in America: Labor force participation, mobility, place, and well-being," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 270(C).
    7. Carol Graham, 2005. "The Economics of Happiness," World Economics, World Economics, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 6(3), pages 41-55, July.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Mortality; Optimism; Expectations; Deaths of despair; Demographic trends; Prediction;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • D84 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Expectations; Speculations
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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