Although Stressed Out, Presidents Don't Have Shorter Life Spans

The stress of their jobs may lead to graying hair and new wrinkles, but American presidents do not live shorter lives, a new study has found. In fact, most of them live longer than expected.

Study author S. Jay Olshansky, PhD, of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggests that access to superior medical care, along with having vast financial resources and education may explain why so many of our presidents outlive their counterparts.

The stress endured while in office may contribute to an increasingly aging appearance, but it does not seem to negatively influence our leaders' longevity. Instead, their wealth and status ensures treatment from only the best doctors and instant access to the latest equipment and expertise, he noted. The correlation between greater socioeconomic levels and longevity is further reinforced by the fact that most of the 34 deceased presidents reviewed in the study had college educations.

Presidents Might Actually Be Healthier Despite The Pressure

Published in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study revealed that of the 34 presidents who died of natural causes, 23 lived longer than expected. Olshansky reached the findings after calculating the leaders' life expectancy by comparing their ages at inauguration with their ages at death. Using this method, he determined that the average life span for the 34 deceased men was 73. Among those 23 who outlived this expectation, they averaged 78 years old at death.

George Washington and the 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant, died beyond the time expected, with Harry S. Truman, elected at 60.9 years old, living until he was 88.6. And while the typical lifespan for men during the early years of this country was only 35, the first eight US presidents lived for an average of 80 years, including John Adams, the second president, who was born in 1735 and lived to the age of 90.

To date, 38th President Gerald Ford holds the record for the greatest longevity, dying at the age of 93. Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93 lived for about a month less.

But Being The President Keeps Getting More Stressful

Olshansky acknowledged that the president's job became increasingly more difficult and complex after the Great Depression. Hence, early US presidents may not have experienced nearly as many distressing events and dilemmas as the American leaders of today do. And with the advent of television, the public is exposed daily to the president's appearance, possibly distorting perceptions that the leaders are aging more rapidly.

Critics suggest that the study merely demonstrates that the job is predominately pursued by very healthy candidates who are already inclined to live longer. They propose that the White House position may contribute to a quicker death, with the results of the study skewed by this phenomenon.

The study was prompted by a belief that the presidential occupation accelerates aging by as much as two years for each year on the job. It excluded living presidents Jimmy Carter, the two Bushs, Bill Clinton and President Obama, as well as those assassinated.

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Date of original publication:

Updated: October 29, 2016