Cognitively Intact and Happy Life Expectancy in the United States

Anthony R. Bardo, Scott M. Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objectives: We examined the number of years to be lived with and without cognitive impairment and with high self-assessed quality of life (i.e., happiness) among a nationally representative sample of Americans aged 65 years and older. Two key questions are addressed: Can people have a high quality of life despite being cognitively impaired? Which is longer: happy life expectancy or cognitively intact life expectancy? Method: Data from nine waves of the Health and Retirement Study (1998-2014) were used to estimate transition probabilities into and out of cognitively intact/impaired-un/happy states, as well as to death. Recently extended Bayesian multistate life table methods were used to estimate age-specific cognitively intact and happy life expectancy net of sex, race/ethnicity, education, and birth cohort. Results: Happiness and cognitive impairment were shown to coexist in both the gross cross-tabulated data and in the life tables. Happy life expectancy is approximately 25% longer than cognitively intact life expectancy at age 65 years, and by age 85, happy life expectancy is roughly double cognitively intact life expectancy, on average. Discussion: Lack of cognitive impairment is not a necessary condition for happiness. In other words, people can have a high quality of life despite being cognitively impaired.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-251
Number of pages10
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:


  • Cognitive impairment
  • Health and Retirement Study
  • Mortality
  • Quality of life
  • Subjective well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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