Is subjective well-being independently associated with mortality? A 14-year prospective cohort study in a representative sample of 25 139 US men and women

Steven D. Barger, Timothy W. Broom, Michael V. Esposito, Taylor S. Lane

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Objectives To examine whether the inverse association of subjective well-being with mortality is independent of self-rated health and socioeconomic status in healthy adults. Design A population-based prospective cohort study based on an in-person interview. Cox regression was used to examine mortality hazards for happiness alone and for a standardised summary well-being measure that included happiness, life satisfaction and negative emotions. Using prespecified analyses, we first adjusted for age and then additionally adjusted for self-rated health and then race/ethnicity, marital status, smoking and socioeconomic status. Setting Probability sample of adult US residents interviewed in their homes in 2001. Participants 25 139 adults free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at baseline. Primary outcome measure All-cause mortality 14 years after the baseline interview as assessed by probabilistic matching using the National Death Index. Results Age-adjusted unhappiness was associated with mortality (HR 1.27; 95% CI 1.11 to 1.45, p=0.001) but the association attenuated after adjusting for self-rated health (HR 1.01; 95% CI 0.88 to 1.16, p=0.85). A similar pattern was seen for the summary well-being measure in fully adjusted models (HR 1.00; 95% CI 0.99 to 1.00, p=0.30). In contrast, self-rated health was strongly associated with mortality. In the fully adjusted model with the summary well-being measure the hazards for good, very good and excellent self-rated health were 0.71 (95% CI 0.62 to 0.80, p<0.001), 0.63 (95% CI 0.55 to 0.71, p<0.001) and 0.45 (95% CI 0.39 to 0.51, p<0.001), respectively. Conclusions In this representative sample of US adults, the association between well-being and mortality was strongly attenuated by self-rated health and to a lesser extent socioeconomic status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere031776
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 14 2020



  • happiness
  • health status
  • mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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