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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

BU: Centenarian Offspring Feel Stronger Purpose in Life

A sense of meaning and direction in life is associated with living longer and experiencing less disease, disability, and cognitive impairment.

Now, a new study co-authored by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers has found that the children of centenarians, who tend to have similar healthy aging patterns and long lives like their parents, are also much more likely than the general population to have a strong sense of life purpose.

The study, the first to examine purpose of life (PIL) in centenarian offspring, was published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B.

“Aging well is not only escaping or delaying disease,” says co-author Dr. Paola Sebastiani, professor of biostatistics at BUSPH. “Feeling good about your life is important and should be considered an important aspect of healthy aging.”

The researchers used data from the Boston University-based New England Centenarian Study (NECS), which has recruited almost 4,000 centenarians, and some of their siblings and children, since 1994. The researchers compared the children of centenarians, who averaged 82 years old, with three other groups: their spouses; their birth cohort, made up of people whose parents were born around the same time as the centenarians but lived on average only into their early 70s; and participants in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative study of more than 30,000 individuals over the age of 50.

Adjusting for age, sex, education, and marital status, the researchers found that children of centenarians had 1.92 times the odds of high PIL as their spouses, 2.64 times the odds as the birth cohort participants, and 2.93 times the odds as the HRS participants.

The authors noted individuals tend to partner with people who have similar physical and psychological traits, which may account for the smaller difference in scores between the children of centenarians and their spouses. The spouses were also younger than the centenarian offspring on average, and by definition were more likely to be married, both of which are associated with higher PIL, the authors wrote.

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