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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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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Mortality; Optimism; Expectations; Deaths of despair; Demographic trends; Prediction;

    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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