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Smile or die: Can subjective well-being increase survival in the face of substantive health impairments?

Journal article
Authors Martin Binder
Guido Buenstorf
Published in Economics and Human Biology
Volume 31
Pages 209-227
ISSN 1570-677X
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE)
Pages 209-227
Language en
Keywords subjective well-beinghealthsurvival analysislongevityBHPSlife satisfaction
Subject categories Biological Sciences, Economics


A robust relationship between subjective well-being and mortality has been established in the literature, but few studies address how subjective well-being interacts with the impact of concrete diseases on survival. In addition, issues of endogeneity between bad health and subjective well-being are ignored when it comes to survival. We assess both for the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS; 1991-2008) and specifically analyze whether subjective well-being predicts better chances of surviving diseases such as cancer or heart conditions. We find that several of the studied diseases consistently decrease survival chances in our sample (e.g. hazard ratio 3.47 for cancer), also when controlling for the severity of health problems. But our results do not suggest that well-being mitigates the effect these diseases have on mortality. Life satisfaction also does not predict longer survival in the data set if we control for the endogeneity of subjective well-being.

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