Are people healthier if their partners are more optimistic? The dyadic effect of optimism on health among older adults

J Psychosom Res. 2014 Jun;76(6):447-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2014.03.104. Epub 2014 Apr 12.


Objective: Optimism has been linked with an array of positive health outcomes at the individual level. However, researchers have not examined how a spouse's optimism might impact an individual's health. We hypothesized that being optimistic (and having an optimistic spouse) would both be associated with better health.

Methods: Participants were 3940 adults (1970 couples) from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative panel study of American adults over the age of 50. Participants were tracked for four years and outcomes included: physical functioning, self-rated health, and number of chronic illnesses. We analyzed the dyadic data using the actor-partner interdependence model.

Results: After controlling for several psychological and demographic factors, a person's own optimism and their spouse's optimism predicted better self-rated health and physical functioning (bs = .08-.25, ps<.01). More optimistic people also reported better physical functioning (b = -.11, p<.01) and fewer chronic illnesses (b=-.01, p<.05) over time. Further, having an optimistic spouse uniquely predicted better physical functioning (b = -.09, p<.01) and fewer chronic illnesses (b = -.01, p<.05) over time. The strength of the relationship between optimism and health did not diminish over time.

Conclusions: Being optimistic and having an optimistic spouse were both associated with better health. Examining partner effects is important because such analyses reveal the unique role that spouses play in promoting health. These findings may have important implications for future health interventions.

Keywords: Aging; Optimism; Positive psychology; Psychological well-being; Relationships; Successful aging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Self Report
  • Spouses / psychology*