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Health and Medicinehealth

Politicians Live Longer Than The Rest Of Us – And The Gap Is Widening

Around 100 years ago, politicians lived similar lifespans to most people, but a lot has changed in recent decades. 

author

Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockJun 24 2022, 14:53 UTC
Politician voting in parliament.
“Our study is the largest to date to compare the mortality rate and life expectancy of politicians with those of the age and gender-matched general population," the researchers said. Image credit: Mircea Moira/Shutterstock.com

Politicians worldwide are far more likely to live longer than the general population, new research has revealed, reflecting the widening disparity between elites and everyday people currently wracking our world.

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Things are getting progressively worse too, according to the study. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, politicians in most countries analyzed tended to have similar rates of mortality to the general population. However, throughout the 20th century, mortality rate differences widened vastly across all countries.

That means that the “survival advantage” of politicians over the general population is currently the highest it’s been in the last 150 years.

The findings come from a new study by the University of Oxford recently published in the European Journal of Epidemiology. The researchers reached their conclusion after trawling through data on over 57,500 politicians from 11 countries, including Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. 

The team found information for all countries spanning from 1945 and 2014, but the full analysis included politicians in certain countries where solid records exist from 1816 to 2017. 

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Female politicians constitute between 3 percent (France and the US) to 21 percent (Germany) of the sample. The different proportion of female politicians is something to consider when comparing different countries since it's known that women live longer than men on average.

Currently, life expectancy gaps range from around 3 years in Switzerland to 7 years in the USA. Meanwhile, a typical member of the general public in Italy is 2.2 times more likely to die within the next year compared to a politician of the same age and gender, but that figure is 1.2 times as likely in New Zealand. 

“The results show that the survival advantage of politicians today is very high compared to that observed in the first half of the 20th century. It is interesting that the mortality gaps we document typically started rising half a century earlier than the well-documented increases in income inequality from the 1980s,” Dr Laurence Roope, study co-author and Senior Researcher at Health Economics Research Centre (HERC) at Oxford Population Health, said in a statement.

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There are a bunch of factors that are suspected to underpin this very clear trend. For instance, there were high rates of smoking in the first half of the 20th century, even among the elite and professional classes. However, rates have been slipping since the 1950s. Perhaps, the study speculates, rates of smoking declined faster among politicians than the general public, perhaps partially explaining the life expectancy gaps that grew in many countries after 1950.

Alternatively, it could have something to do with heart health. Politicians tend to have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases than other people, but these conditions have been more easily treated since antihypertensive drugs became widely available in the 1960s.

Another big – and perhaps the most obvious – element is wealth and economic inequality. Politicians earn substantially higher salaries than the average population, bringing clear advantages to longevity and health. Nevertheless, the researchers argue that this factor is not as prominent as it may first seem, since inequality began to rise in the 1980s but differences in life expectancy began to widen decades earlier. 

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Whatever the reason, it’s clear the lifespan gap between politicians and the general population is deepening – and it perhaps highlights some ugly truths about today’s world.


Health and Medicinehealth
  • health,

  • lifespan,

  • politics,

  • science and society

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