Epidemiological data for variance in human longevity, across broad demographics, reflects a tangled web of connections between education, wealth, intelligence, and status. All of these line items correlate with one another, and there is at least some debate over why they correlate with life expectancy. For example, there is evidence for intelligence to correlate with physical robustness for genetic reasons. The data here showing that high status actors live longer than lower status actors is another piece of data that can be debated. Beyond the obvious suggestion that this is all about wealth, one can speculate on the degree to which actor status reflects a selection process that filters for greater physical robustness. The researchers here suggest the mechanism to be more subtle than either of these propositions, however, and ultimately boil down to incentives upon lifestyle choices.
We examined over two thousand actors and actresses for over 100,000 life-years of follow-up to test the association between success and survival. We found that Academy award winners live significantly longer than their co-stars. The analysis replicated earlier findings from decades ago, showed a larger difference in life-expectancy than originally reported, and suggested the increased survival extends to analyses restricted to winners and nominees. The increased life-expectancy was greater for individuals winning in recent years, at a younger age, and with multiple wins. For context, a five-year difference in life-expectancy associated with an Academy award exceeds the magnitude of lost life-expectancy for the general US population associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
One behavioral interpretation is that social status can contribute to health in celebrities and thereby may be important more widely in society. Successful actors often have personal chefs, trainers, chauffeurs, nannies, managers, coaches, and other staff who make it easier to follow a healthy lifestyle. Academy award winners are also surrounded by people interested in their well-being, invested in their reputation, empowered to enforce standards, and motivated to avoid scandals. The result may be that winners tend to eat properly, exercise consistently, sleep regularly, avoid drug misuse, and follow the ideals of a prudent life-style that bring more gains with adherence. These behavioral mechanisms suggest social gradients in disease might be mitigated by interventions for a healthy lifestyle.
In summary, this study supports the theory that social factors may be important determinants of health at extremes of status and, therefore, might influence health for patients who have intermediate levels of success. The health effects might not be entirely due to occupation, education, or medical care. Instead, an explanation might include that successful people have more ideal lifestyles or can avoid some harmful stress.