Famous performers and sportsmen tend to have shorter lives, new study reports

April 17, 2013

Fame and achievement in performance-related careers may be earned at the cost of a shorter life, according to a study published online today in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine.

Based on the premise that an obituary in the New York Times (NYT) usually implies success in one's career, Professor Richard Epstein and Catherine Epstein analysed 1000 consecutive obituaries published in the NYT during 2009-2011 in terms of gender, age, occupation, and cause of death. They separated subjects into four broad : performance/sport (including actors, singers, musicians, dancers, and sportspeople), non-performing creative (including writers, composers and visual artists), business/military/political, and professional/academic/religious.

The gender distribution of NYT obituaries was found to be strongly skewed towards males over females (813 vs. 186). In terms of occupations, younger ages of death were apparent in performers/sports (77.2 +/- 1.7) and creative workers (78.5 +/- 0.8), whereas older ages of death were seen in professionals/academics (81.7 +/- 1.4) and in business/military/political careers (83 +/- 1.2). Moreover, although the life expectancy for a US citizen born today is about 76 years for males and 81 years for females, the average age of death for NYT males was older (80.4), and females younger (78.8) than these averages; this was associated with a higher proportion of NYT females than males in performance/sports (38% vs. 18%) and fewer in professional careers (12% vs. 27%).

When the authors looked at causes of death, they found that earlier deaths were associated with accidents, infections (including HIV) and certain cancers. In general, cancer-related deaths were more frequent in performers (27%) and creative workers (29%), and somewhat less frequent in professional/academic (24%), military/political (20.4%), and sports careers (18%). More specifically, lung cancer deaths – which the authors considered a likely indication of chronic smoking - were commonest in people whose career was performance-based (7.2%), and least common among professionals/academics (1.4%).

Professor Epstein, who is Director of the Clinical Informatics & Research Centre at The Kinghorn Cancer Centre, St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, commented: "A one-off retrospective analysis like this can't prove anything, but it raises some interesting questions. First, if it is true that successful performers and sports players tend to enjoy shorter lives, does this imply that fame at younger ages predisposes to poor health behaviours in later life after success has faded? Or that psychological and family pressures favouring unusually high public achievement lead to self-destructive tendencies throughout life? Or that risk-taking personality traits maximise one's chances of success, with the use of cigarettes, alcohol or illicit drugs improving one's performance output in the short term? Any of these hypotheses could be viewed as a health warning to young people aspiring to become stars."

Explore further: Being female or less affluent still linked to early death in cystic fibrosis

More information: 'Death in the New York Times: the price of fame is a faster flame' by C.R. Epstein and R.J. Epstein QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, DOI: 10.1093/qjmed/hct077

Related Stories

Being female or less affluent still linked to early death in cystic fibrosis

August 24, 2011
Despite improvements in survival for people with cystic fibrosis over the last 50 years, females and individuals from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds continue to die younger than males and the more privileged ...

Sex hormones impact career choices

September 1, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Teacher, pilot, nurse or engineer? Sex hormones strongly influence people's interests, which affect the kinds of occupations they choose, according to psychologists.

Alcohol dependence seems to shorten life more than smoking, especially among women

October 16, 2012
While researchers and clinicians know that the mortality rates among alcohol dependent (AD) individuals are high, most of that knowledge is based on studies of clinical populations. A new study is the first to examine excess ...

Recommended for you

Could insufficient sleep be adding centimeters to your waistline?

July 27, 2017
Adults in the UK who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and obese and have poorer metabolic health, according to a new study.

Sugar not so sweet for mental health

July 27, 2017
Sugar may be bad not only for your teeth and your waistline, but also your mental health, claimed a study Thursday that was met with scepticism by other experts.

Vitamin E-deficient embryos are cognitively impaired even after diet improves

July 27, 2017
Zebrafish deficient in vitamin E produce offspring beset by behavioral impairment and metabolic problems, new research at Oregon State University shows.

The role of dosage in assessing risk of hormone therapy for menopause

July 27, 2017
When it comes to assessing the risk of estrogen therapy for menopause, how the therapy is delivered—taking a pill versus wearing a patch on one's skin—doesn't affect risk or benefit, researchers at UCLA and elsewhere ...

Blowing smoke? E-cigarettes might help smokers quit

July 26, 2017
People who used e-cigarettes were more likely to kick the habit than those who didn't, a new study found.

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.