Health, Resources

Living longer and healthier is linked with having a purpose in life

November 28, 2022 by

A new study, published on Preventative Medication by Boston University’s School of Public Health, shows that living with a purpose lowers the risk of all causes of mortality, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity – with women experiencing the most benefit.

Photo: Pixabay

Though a growing body of evidence suggests that living with purpose may help you live longer, a recent study published in Preventative Medicine looked at whether this effect would apply across genders, ethnicities and races. Led by Dr. Koichiro Shiba, assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health (BUSPH) in Massachusetts, found that people with higher levels of purpose may have a lower risk of death from any cause, and that this association is applicable across race/ethnicity and gender with women experiencing stronger benefits.

Dr. Shiba and colleagues at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan) analyzed a diverse and large sample of 13,159 US adults ages 50 or older from the Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. The team assessed self-reported sense of purpose, based on the “purpose in life” of the Ryff Psychological Well-being Scales (a widely used tool that measures different aspects of well-being and happiness) and examined mortality risk over an 8-year period beginning between 2006-2008.


  • 24.7% of participants had died after an 8-year follow-up period
  • Those with strongest sense of purpose saw the lowest risk of death, a 15.2% mortality risk, compared to those with the least sense of purpose, a 36.5% mortality risk
  • Among those living with a purpose, women lowered their risk by 34% compared to men, who also lowered their risk by 20%
  • No significant differences by a participants’ race or ethnicity

Why women benefit more

Dr. Shiba speculates that the stronger observed purpose-mortality association in women may be attributable to gender difference in the use of healthcare services, “one of the postulated pathways linking purpose and health,” he says. “Evidence suggests men tend to under-use necessary healthcare services, due to social norm. However, future study investigating the mechanisms underlying the gender difference is warranted.”

These findings can help inform future policies and other efforts to improve health and well-being.

Helpful Resources

Access to the study (Preventative Medicine)

Health and Retirement Study (Institute for Social Research)

Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line (Age Wave, Merrill Lynch)

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