Purpose in Life Among Centenarian Offspring

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020 Jan 14;75(2):308-315. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gby023.


Objectives: Purpose in life (PIL), a feeling of meaning and direction in life, is associated with favorable health outcomes including lower mortality and reduced risk of disease, disability, and cognitive impairment. Since centenarian offspring have been shown to have long health spans we sought to examine whether they have higher PIL than individuals without familial longevity.

Method: We compared PIL scores from the Ryff Scales of Psychological Well-Being in centenarian offspring from the New England Centenarian Study (N = 361, mean age = 82.0 years) with 3 referent groups: spouses, birth cohort-matched referents, and Health and Retirement Study (HRS) participants.

Results: Logistic regression analyses adjusted for age, sex, education, and marital status indicated greater odds of high PIL among centenarian offspring compared with spouse (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 1.92, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.002-3.68, p = .049) and birth cohort referents (aOR = 2.64, 95% CI = 1.36-5.14, p = .004). Offspring had an almost 3 times greater odds of having high PIL than HRS participants (odds ratio [OR] = 2.93, 95% CI = 2.17-3.96, p < .0001).

Discussion: Higher PIL is associated with being an offspring of a long-lived parent and may play a role in the ability to delay age-associated illnesses and functional decline. Increasing purposefulness may be a target for interventions to promote healthy aging.

Keywords: Attitudes; Familial; Longevity; Mental health; Well-being.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult Children / psychology*
  • Aged, 80 and over / psychology*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Culture*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longevity*
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Surveys and Questionnaires