Meaning in life and mortality

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2009 Jun;64(4):517-27. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbp047. Epub 2009 Jun 10.


Objectives: The purpose of this exploratory study was to see if meaning in life is associated with mortality in old age.

Methods: Interviews were conducted with a nationwide sample of older adults (N = 1,361). Data were collected on meaning in life, mortality, and select control measures.

Results: Three main findings emerged from this study. First, the data suggest that older people with a strong sense of meaning in life are less likely to die over the study follow-up period than those who do not have a strong sense of meaning. Second, the findings indicate that the effect of meaning on mortality can be attributed to the potentially important indirect effect that operates through health. Third, further analysis revealed that one dimension of meaning-having a strong sense of purpose in life--has a stronger relationship with mortality than other facets of meaning. The main study findings were observed after the effects of attendance at religious services and emotional support were controlled statistically.

Discussion: If the results from this study can be replicated, then interventions should be designed to help older people find a greater sense of purpose in life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Aged
  • Attitude*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Demography
  • Disabled Persons
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life*
  • Mortality*
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires