Price of Fame at the Expense of Longer Life

Lifespans are shorter among creative and sports professions compared to academics

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Success and fame can come with a hefty price: living a shorter life. Researchers said fame and achievements in performance-related careers could come at the cost of a shorter life expectancy.

Performers, athletes and creative people reported in the obituaries section of The New York Times were likelier to die at a younger age, as compared with academics, doctors and philanthropists, a new study shows.

Sports players, performers and creative workers had younger ages of death at 77.4, 77.1 and 78.5 years respectively. Military, business and political workers had older average ages of death at 84.7, 83.3, and 82.1 respectively.

"Engage in a balanced lifestyle."

C.R. Epstein and R.J Epstein, from the School of Medicine at the University of Queensland and St. Vincent's Hospital at the University of New South Wales in Australia, looked at the links between career success, terminal disease and life longevity.

The study included 1,000 obituaries covered in The New York Times published between 2009 and 2011. Researchers took note of each person's gender, occupation and terminal disease.

For each occupational category, the researchers noted who was sick with which disease. The researchers also calculated the average age of death for each disease and subgroups of each occupation.

In total, male obituaries outnumbered female ones at 813 to 186.

While the average life expectancy for American men is about 75.6 years, researchers found that the average expectancy for men reported in the Times was higher at 80.4 years.

At the same time, women reported in the Times lived to be 78.8 on average. In comparison, the average life expectancy for American women is 80.8 years.

Females’ obituaries were significantly overrepresented in the sports and performance categories compared to those in academic and professional careers.

At the same time, women in sports and performance careers had shorter lifespans than those in the latter professions.

Researchers found no difference with regard to gender in fatal diseases.

"The study design reflects our impression that the attributed cause of death in obituaries has greater precision at younger ages, while losing meaning as competing causes of expected death (arbitrarily defined here as older than 85 years) accumulate," researchers wrote in their report.

Dying of 'old age' was cited more often in academics, doctors and philanthropists. Cancer deaths, specifically from lung cancer, occurred more often in creatives and performers.

The authors noted their study didn't take the deceased's family background, childhood personality, drug exposure and other factors into account.

Further, the authors noted that the way obituaries were written could have changed over time with changing attitudes towards certain diseases like HIV. And some of the deaths could have occurred by chance rather than from being ill.

The study was published online April 17 in the journal QJM. No conflicts of interest were declared. St Vincent’s Hospital and the Cancer & Immunology Programme supported the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 18, 2013
Last Updated:
November 25, 2013