TILBURG, Netherlands — As the old saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life!” It turns out that adage may need to be changed to, “Happy wife (or husband), longer life!” That’s because a new study shows that having a happy spouse is linked to greater longevity.
In fact, researchers say that a spouse’s satisfaction in life predicted a person’s lifespan even more than it did their own overall contentment.
“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, a researcher at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, in a statement to the Association for Psychological Science.
That’s because people who are generally unhappier are more likely to lead a less healthy lifestyle. And when one spouse is mired in bad habits, the other’s lifestyle is often dragged down as a result. Conversely, having a more active spouse will likely push one to be just as physically active.
“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,” says Stavrova.
For the study, Stavrova used data from 4,400 over-50 couples across the U.S. who took part in an eight-year survey by the National Institute on Aging. The couples were either married or living together, and 99% were heterosexual. During the eight years, participants reported on their life satisfaction and factors believed to be linked to lifespan, such as level of partner support and frequency of physical activity. They were also surveyed on their overall health and other demographic information.
By the end of the study period, 16% of the participants had passed away — mostly older men who had lower incomes and education levels, were less physically active and in poorer overall health. But the deceased participants were also found to have lower life satisfaction, lower relationship satisfaction, and a partner who also had lower life satisfaction. Similarly, their spouses were also more likely to pass away during the eight-year period compared to the spouses of participants still alive.
“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.
The results also show that even if a partner was happier at the beginning of the study period, but grew unhappier over time, the participant’s risk of death increased more slowly compared to a someone whose spouse was unhappy at the start.
Stavrova believes her findings indicate that it’s not partner support that plays a greater role in one’s lifespan, but partner life satisfaction.
“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,” she says.
The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.