American Presidents and Life Expectancy

American Presidents and Life Expectancy

Last night, while watching President Obama speak on TV, my wife commented on how grey his hair has become.  It seems like we have had that conversation during the term of every U.S. President we have been fortunate (or unfortunate) to be served by.  While I can’t deny they have all added grey hairs during their terms, I can’t say that I haven’t also.  Being the same age as most Presidents are when they enter office, it seems fairly obvious to me (as I look in the mirror at my grey hairs) that it is the age of the President, more than anything else, that causes this change in hair color.  Sure, I imagine that the stresses of the job might contribute to greying hair, but that’s not the only contributor.

I started thinking, as the life insurance broker that I am, about the life expectancy of American Presidents.  Does stress contribute to a shorter life span for our Commanders in Chief than us “normal” folks?  I did a little research and it appears that most U.S. Presidents actually live beyond the average life expectancy.

Take the first eight Presidents, for example – the average lifespan was 79.8 years, during a time when life expectancy at birth for men was less than 40 years old.  More recently, the trend has been even longer life – from Herbert Hoover through Ronald Reagan, excluding John F. Kennedy (who was assassinated at age 46), the average age of death was 81.6 years.  The exception was Lyndon B. Johnson who died of heart disease at age 64.

In a research letter by noted University of Illinois at Chicago demographer S. Jay Olshansky, published in the Dec. 7 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Olshansky found that 23 of the 34 U.S. presidents who died from natural causes lived longer, and in many instances significantly longer, than predicted.

The study also found that living ex-presidents have either already exceeded their predicted longevity at the time of their inauguration, or are likely to do so. “We know that socioeconomic status has an extremely powerful effect on longevity now,” Olshansky said, “and it was likely to have been a factor in the past.”  All but 10 U.S. presidents were college educated; all were wealthy; and all had access to health care.

I would be interested to find out if life insurance company actuaries consider the job of President as a hazardous occupation, based on the assumption of the job being extremely stressful, as I suggested earlier.   Based on the average life expectancy found in this study,  this would be a mistake on their part.

Read more about this study at:

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