People who gain fame and fortune may garner extra status, but it may not help
them live longer, new research says.
Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health tracked
the life spans of actors who won or lost out on television's Emmy awards,
athletes who did or did not gain entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and
former Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States and their vanquished
The research team found no clear indication that winning any of these prizes
or positions conferred a longevity advantage.
Elected presidents live shorter lives
When it came to presidents, for example, the trend went the other way.
Elected presidents and vice presidents actually lost, on average, 5.3 years from
their lives, compared to their political rivals. Even after taking the added
hazard of assassination into account, being elected to high office meant a
shortening life span on average.
On the other hand, winning an Emmy was tied to longer life for actors, the
Columbia team found. These actors lived 2.7 years longer than nominated actors
who lost. But the same didn't hold true for Emmy award-winning screenwriters,
who had a life span that was three years shorter than writers who lost out on
Finally, Baseball Hall of Famers had no life span advantage over nominated
players who weren't inducted.
The research suggests than any "bump" from gaining high social status and
health may be more to do with access to resources, such as better education and
wealth, than simply membership in an elite group, the researchers said.
Winning or losing deters health
So the glow of high social status - what experts call "relative deprivation"
- may not bring a big health advantage on its own.
"Relative deprivation likely plays some role in health inequalities, but it
is not as important as the life circumstances and opportunities that result from
one's socioeconomic position," study leader Bruce Link, a professor of
epidemiology and sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School, said in a
university news release.
"The relative deprivation theory would predict that losers would consistently
be at a disadvantage for health and longevity compared to winners, but this is
not what we see [in this study]," he added.
It may be that the opportunities that come with winning are more important
for health than any bump up in relative status, the researchers said.
So, winning an Emmy while young may open doors and provide a career boost for
actors, helping their health along the way. On the other hand, athletes are
inducted into the Hall of Fame after their careers are over, so the win
may not confer the same benefit.
The study's authors pointed out that winning can also bring stress, which
will have an effect on health. This is particularly true for presidents and vice
presidents, who not only face possible assassination attempts, but also face
extreme stress from two of the most demanding positions in the world.
The researchers noted that the 15 US presidents during the 20th century who
died by 2008 lived an average of 1.9 years less than the average American man of
the same age.
The US National Institutes of Health provides more information on health