Standard of Living, Health Key to Emotional Wellbeing After 65

by Magali Rheault and Kyley McGeeney

Employed older Americans also more likely to have high emotional health

This is part three in a special series about emotional health and aging in America. Part one examined the relationship between age and emotional health, while part two presented the key demographic predictors of emotionally healthy older Americans.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Older Americans who express satisfaction with their standard of living are more than twice as likely as those who are dissatisfied to report high emotional health.

Older Americans' satisfaction with standard of living.gif

Emotionally well-off Americans are individuals whose scores on the Gallup-Healthways Emotional Health Index are above 90, out of a maximum of 100. The Emotional Health Index is based on a comprehensive measure of emotional wellbeing asking individuals whether they felt "a lot of" each of the following emotions the day before the survey: smiling/laughing, learning/doing something interesting, being treated with respect, enjoyment, happiness, worry, sadness, anger, and stress. In addition, the survey asks people whether they have ever been diagnosed with depression.

All findings in this article hold true after controlling for gender, race, marital status, education, employment, satisfaction with standard of living, regional location, and age among the 65-and-older population. The results capture older Americans' Emotional Health Index scores from January 2010 through June 2011. Consequently, the data cannot determine the degree to which the scores stem from individuals' aggregate life experiences or their personal situations at the time of the survey or a combination of both. Nevertheless, at least 8 in 10 older Americans expressed satisfaction with their standard of living during that time. Such satisfaction also remained steady over the months of the survey period, ranging between 81% and 84%.

Work Is Good for Older Americans' Emotional Health

While relatively few older Americans work -- 9% tell Gallup they work full time, while 11% say they are employed part time -- those who are employed have higher Emotional Health Index scores than those who are not working. Even after controlling for all other variables, including standard of living, employed older Americans are still more likely than those who do not work to have strong emotional health. This suggests that having a job can actually be better for older individuals' emotional wellbeing than not working. However, this relationship is not as strong as satisfaction with standard of living.

Older Americans' employment and emotional health.gif

It is important to note, however, that employment status and income also matter for U.S. adults more broadly, regardless of age.

Physical Health Strongly Related to Emotional Health

Older Americans who rate their overall health "excellent" or "very good" are significantly more likely than those who assess their health lower to have high Emotional Health Index scores. These results hold true even after statistically controlling for all other variables, including satisfaction with standard of living.

Older Americans' health ratings and emotional health.gif

Standard of living, employment, and health are all interrelated factors. Rising healthcare costs in particular -- including the potential cost of assisted living and almost 20 years of remaining life expectancy for a typical 65-year-old American -- mean that out-of-pocket medical expenses could take a significant toll on older Americans' pocketbooks and emotional wellbeing.

Bottom Line

As the leading edge of the Boomer generation starts to turn 65 this year, Gallup's results underscore the importance of personal economics and subjective health for this large demographic cohort's emotional wellbeing. The findings reveal that older Americans' perceptions about their standard of living are strongly related to emotional health, at least in the wake of the economic crisis. As such, what individuals do to improve their standard of living when they are younger may be a key to their emotional health when they are older.

Older Americans who have jobs are also better off emotionally than those who aren't working. However, the results cannot determine whether it's the extra income, social interactions in the workplace, sense of purpose, or other factors that are most related to higher emotional health. In any case, while continuing to work may be a financial necessity for many, it appears the benefits of being employed after age 65 go beyond material advantages.

How older Americans view their own health is also a strong predictor of their emotional wellbeing. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that while objective health measures assess a "patient's degree of health," subjective measures "translate that objective assessment into the actual quality of life experienced." Thus, self-perceptions of good health may have important implications for actual health outcomes.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks U.S. and U.K. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.

Frank Newport contributed to this article.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-June 30, 2011, with a random sample of 520,267 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Margins of error for subgroups have a maximum margin of sampling error of ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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