The University of California research, which is based on an old study that followed 1,528 brilliant students from the early 1920s until their death, found that conscientious and prudent people live a few years longer than carefree, happy-go-lucky sorts.
It also found that marriage lengthens life for men, but makes little difference for women, while social ties are longevity boosters for both genders. Hard workers who advanced in their careers and took on more responsibility were also more likely to live long, healthy lives, found the study.
“If you want to improve your health, you shouldn’t just go on a joyride, but get involved in meaningful, productive kinds of things,” study author Howard Friedman, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, told LiveScience.
The children recruited for the study were identified by their teachers as the brightest students in their classes during the 1920s. The study, which was carried out by Stanford professor Lewis Terman, meant to find out whether intelligence led to later success in life.
“There was a perception at the time that really intelligent children would grow up to be nerds and weird and maybe it was not such a good thing to be smart,” Friedman said.
So the researchers measured the kid’s personalities traits, recorded biographical and demographic information, and watched them throughout their lives.
For the record, the kids did show a lot of variation in how successful they were as adults. Future careers ranged from foreign reporter to atomic physicist and from trucker to secretary, Friedman said.
Terman died in 1956. More than three decades later, Friedman and his team picked up the research and turned it into a health study. They combed through the data and collected new information on the participants, including death certificates from around the country.
“We know not only how long they lived but exactly what they died of,” Friedman said.