The finding, made by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, stands in contrast to previous research that showed no major differences in self-reported happiness and well-being between wealthy people and those with modest financial assets.
Instead, the study finds that people with relatively large financial assets before they became disabled reported substantially better well-being, and less sadness and loneliness, after they were disabled than was reported by people with fewer financial resources who also became disabled.
Although the difference eased a few years after disability set in, the researchers say the finding has important implications for such things as personal savings, retirement planning and "safety net" government programs for the seriously ill and disabled.
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Society. It's based on an analysis of data from 478 older Americans who were interviewed regularly and in depth for as long as nine years, before and after they suffered a health problem that left them disabled. The data are from the Health and Retirement Study, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research with funding from the National Institute on Aging.
"Happiness and well-being may not depend on a person's financial state in times of health, but when that health fails, as it will eventually for most of us, money matters," says senior author Peter Ubel, M.D., a U-M professor of internal medicine and psychology, and a staff physician at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.