Life skills matter for younger people
Do they matter for older people, too?
Educators and business researchers show that life skills (also called non-cognitive skills) promote educational and occupational success in early adulthood. Do these life skills predict health and well-being in later adulthood? British researchers Andrew Steptoe and Jane Wardle at University College, London, answered this question with data from 8,119 men and women (average age 67 years) in the 2010 wave of the English Longitudinal Study on Aging. The life skills included determination, conscientiousness, emotional stability, sense of control over one’s life, and optimism. Each life skill was rated for each participant with the top quartile (for conscientiousness), bottom quartile (emotional stability evaluated as neuroticism), and maximum possible rating (persistence, optimism, control) defined as possessing the respective skills. Data were normalized and combined to create a composite life skills score.
Cross-sectional analysis of the 2010 data showed that life enjoyment, the number of close relationships, and the number hours volunteered per month increased as the number of the participants’ life skills increased from 0 to 4 or 5 (categories combined). Participants’ depressive symptoms, social isolation, and loneliness all decreased in a graded manner as the number of their life skills increased. Similarly, self-rated fair or poor health, impaired activities of daily living, and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) declined step-wise as the number of life skills increased. From 2010 to 2014, the number of close relationships increased, while depressive symptoms, loneliness, self-rated fair or poor health, serious chronic diseases, and impaired activities of daily living decreased as the number of life skills increased. None of the individual life skills accounted disproportionately for the results. The predictive ability of the life skills did not reflect baseline socioeconomic status or health. If you develop and maintain persistence, determination, sense of control, optimism, and emotional stability, you may improve your health and well-being in later life.
Steptoe and Sarah Jackson examined relationships between life skills and aspects of health and well-being with a representative sample of 8,843 Americans (average age 73 years) in the Health and Retirement Study. Their cross-sectional results of the combined 2008 and 2010 waves mirrored those of the 2010 wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. As the number of life skills increased from 0 to 4 or 5 (categories combined), positive aspects (wealth, income, close relationships, and volunteering) all increased. Negative aspects (depressive symptoms, anxiety, financial strain, chronic stress, social isolation, and loneliness) all decreased. Longitudinal analyses of data from 2008-2010 to 2014 revealed an impressive array of positive outcomes. Similar to their previous study, Steptoe and Jackson found that more life skills predicted increased close relationships, volunteering and reduced depressive symptoms, anxiety, financial strain, chronic stress, self-reported health deterioration, chronic illness, impaired activities of daily living, and loneliness. Older Americans who increased their life skills lived better over four years of the study (and probably longer that that).
Steptoe and Wardle showed that non-cognitive skills predicted a host or positive health and well-being outcomes in representative samples of older English residents and Americans. Study participants that had more life skills lived better. But did they live longer? Steptoe and Jackson analyzed data from 8,117 participants (average age 68 years) in the 2010 wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The non-cognitive skills again included conscientiousness, perseverance, emotional stability, sense of control, and optimism. Higher composite life skill scores predicted longer survival after accounting for numerous confounding factors. Specifically, each standard deviation increase in composite life skill score predicted 19 percent lower risk of mortality during an average follow-up of 7.2 years. Similar to previous findings, no single life skill disproportionately accounted for greater longevity. Increase your repertoire of life skills to live longer and better.