Politicians live longer than the rest of the population, according to a study

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According to INSEE, in 2021, life expectancy at birth in France was 85.4 years for women and 79.3 years for men. Actual life expectancy, on the other hand, depends on many factors, including socioeconomic factors. In many countries, it seems that the poorest citizens generally live less, but there are few studies on the subject. A team from the University of Oxford investigated the question: they looked at the life expectancy of politicians, as an elite group in each country.

Studies have shown that in many high-income countries, gains in life expectancy over many decades have recently stagnated and regional inequalities within countries in life expectancy have widened. However, few studies have analyzed the differences in life expectancy between socioeconomic groups. Researchers have shown, for example, that in the United States, between 2001 and 2014, higher incomes were associated with greater longevity, and that differences in life expectancy between income groups increased over time (up to 4.5 years). ).

Are certain ‘elite’ and high-status occupations associated with better health? A team from the University of Oxford wanted to clarify and quantify this association between socioeconomic status and longevity. Therefore, they compared the death rate and life expectancy of politicians with those of the general population matched for age and sex. The main objective was to undertake a broader examination of long-term relative and absolute health inequalities between different socioeconomic categories.

Lower mortality rate than the general population

There are already some studies of the comparative mortality of politicians, but these have been limited to a few countries, notably the UK and the Netherlands. This time, the researchers considered data from 11 high-income countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK, and the US), with good biographical information on their politicians. . The follow-up period ranged from 1816 to 2016 for France and from 1949 to 2017 for Germany.

The variables required for the analysis were the gender of the politicians, their dates of birth and death, and the dates of arrival in power. The data set included 57,561 politicians, of whom 40,637 had died. The proportion of female politicians ranged from 3% (France and the United States) to 21% (Germany); the average age at election was 43 to 47 years.

In almost all countries, politicians had mortality rates similar to those of the general population at the beginning of the 20th century. ”, point out the researchers in theEuropean Journal of Epidemiology. Then, the differences in relative mortality and survival increased considerably during the 20th century (in favor of the politicians).

Standardized mortality ratios of politicians compared to the general population in 11 countries. Solid blue lines represent the trend in standardized estimates of mortality rate; the orange areas are the 95% CIs. © P.Clarke et al.

However, there were considerable cross-country variations in the magnitude of the survival advantage. For example, for Italy, the most recent standardized mortality rate was 0.45, compared to 0.84 for Switzerland. In other words, an average Italian citizen was 2.2 times more likely to die in the following year than a politician of the same age and gender.

More than seven years difference in life expectancy in the United States

It is interesting to note that during the 19th century, in countries with data from this period, the life expectancy of politicians increased slightly or remained stable in all countries… except France, where it increased slightly. In recent years (2011-2017), the life expectancy of 45-year-old politicians was more or less similar in the countries considered, from 39.9 years in Germany to 43.5 years in Italy.

political life expectancy gap general population
Differences in remaining life expectancy at age 45 between politicians and the general population in 11 countries. Positive (/negative) values ​​indicate that politicians have a higher (/lower) remaining life expectancy at age 45 than the general population. © P.Clarke et al.

The study also found that differences in life expectancy between politicians and the general population were consistent across countries. The gaps began to widen after 1950, with the maximum gap in life expectancy ranging from 4.4 years in the Netherlands to 7.8 years in the United States. ” Our results show large inequalities, relative and absolute, in favor of politicians in each country. In some countries, like the United States, relative inequality is at its highest level in more than 150 years. “, emphasize the researchers. It should be noted that the gaps in life expectancy for several countries have recently decreased; however, the gaps are still larger than those observed before 1950.

This gap is explained in part by income, which in politics is well above the average wages of the general population. But, according to the researchers, other factors must come into play: In fact, income inequality began to increase in the 1980s, while the gap in life expectancy began to increase much earlier, before the 1940s. .

Undoubtedly, differences in access to health care, as well as differences in lifestyle (smoking, diet), have greatly contributed to the phenomenon. Similarly, diseases that can affect politicians (particularly cardiovascular diseases, favored by stress), are now better prevented and treated. Finally, the researchers also point out that campaign methods have evolved considerably. The fact that they now rely heavily on television broadcasting and social media may have had an impact on the life expectancies of our elected officials.

Source: P. Clarke et al., European Journal of Epidemiology

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