Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Contact 90.5 WESA with a story idea or news tip:

Report Finds Today's Senior Citizens Are Happier Than Previous Generations

Tony Dejak
Ilona Engel Travis, left, and Rixiang "Ricky" Huang play ping-pong at Judson Manor, in Cleveland. The arrangement is aimed at reducing the social isolation often experienced by the elderly and bridge the gap between young and old.

Seniors today are happier than previous generations, according to new findings from the University of Pittsburgh.

Researchers surveyed more than 3,000 residents of the Monongahela Valley, from 1987 to present day. Study volunteers were all older than 65.

The more recently born cohorts were less likely to report symptoms of depression. 

"Particularly when it comes to their mood, their energy, and their feelings of hopelessness," said Pitt epidemiologist Kevin Sullivan, the study's lead author.

Specifically, when compared to people born between 1902-1911, those born between 1912-1921 were 43 percent less likely to feel depressed in their senior years. Those born between 1922 and 1931 were 63 percent less likely to been depressed, than the first group. And people born between 1932-1941 were 79 percent less likely to be depressed, when compared to those born three decades earlier. 

This progressively rosier outlook could not be explained by increases in education or the use of anti-depressant medications. Sullivan theorized the findings have to do with quality of life.

Older adults have actually been living longer, free from disease, and free from disability. And all the morbidity is kind of compressed into their later years in life,” said Sullivan. “So instead of being sick for multiple decades before they die, they’re staying healthy, and then they get sick for a couple years before they die.”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.