It’s the age-old question. What’s the secret to a long life? Researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie R. Martin re-examined data first collected nearly a century ago in a study which started in 1921, and followed up a group of high-I.Q. children from childhood to death. They looked at death certificates, and analyzed thousand of pages of information about those participants, most of whom are long dead.
The findings in their book The Longevity Project are not what you may expect.
The children, who were the most cheerful and optimistic, on average, lived shorter lives than those who were less cheerful and joking. According to the researchers, optimistic people tended to take more risks overall. And what was the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood: parental divorce during childhood. The grown children of divorced parents died almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families.
Who lived the longest – those who were the most conscientious and committed to their jobs, friends and community. In fact, those working the longest throughout their lives and doing in the most stressful jobs lived the longest. Those working in low-status jobs were far more likely to die before the age of 60. The authors say it was the most prudent and persistent individuals who stayed healthiest and lived the longest.
There is a caveat with these findings: most of those long-ago subjects were middle-class and white and they lived before many of the recent medical advances that extended our lifespan.