Education Is A Key Predictor Of Emotional Health After 65

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Older Americans with a college education are significantly more likely to be emotionally well-off than are people in this age group with less education.

Among those aged 65 and older, these results hold even after statistically controlling for gender, race, marital status, employment, satisfaction with standard of living, and regional location.

The emotionally well-off are defined as individuals whose scores on the Gallup-Healthways Emotional Health Index are above 90, out of a maximum of 100.

The Emotional Health Index is based on a comprehensive measure of emotional wellbeing asking Americans whether they felt “a lot of” each of the following emotions the day before the survey: smiling/laughing, learning/doing something interesting, being treated with respect, enjoyment, happiness, worry, sadness, anger, and stress.

Among those aged 65 and older, 35% score above 90.

Men Do Well, Hispanics Suffer, and Marital Status Means Little

Older men are slightly more likely than older women to score above 90 on this composite measure of emotional wellbeing, even after statistically keeping all other variables constant.

Among racial and ethnic groups, older Hispanics are the least likely to have Emotional Heath Index scores above 90, and this difference persists after holding all other variables constant.

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Being married does not appear to improve older Americans’ emotional health. The apparent lack of a “marriage advantage” may be explained, at least in part, by the fact that marital status alone does not take into account the quality of the relationship or other related factors.


Bottom Line

Older Americans with a college education have higher Emotional Health Index scores than do people in this age group who have less education, even after controlling for various factors.

The results do not indicate whether a given demographic characteristic, such as having a college education, leads to higher emotional wellbeing or whether individuals with a propensity to be emotionally positive are more likely to pursue more education. 

As Americans clearly understand the practical benefits of a college degree, the results suggest the advantages of a college degree extend well beyond one’s professional life and potential income. As such, education may provide individuals with skills and knowledge critical to managing their emotions in later years.

In addition, the Emotional Health Index scores reveal that on the surface being married is not necessarily emotionally beneficial to those aged 65 and older.

Further, the results indicate that widows and widowers are not emotionally worse off than others, suggesting that the loss of a spouse in one’s older years may not be as devastating as one would think. At the same time, the length of marriage, quality of the relationship, and other related factors may be more important to emotional health than the mere fact of being married.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks U.S. and U.K. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Frank Newport contributed to this article.