Elected leaders 'age faster and die sooner'

PARIS • Politicians may achieve a lifelong dream of becoming a prime minister or president, but in doing so may face the Grim Reaper somewhat sooner than expected.

So suggests an offbeat study in the Christmas edition of the British medical journal, The BMJ.

Researchers led by Harvard Medical School's healthcare policy associate professor Anupam Jena looked at the age of death among 279 nationally elected leaders in 17 Western countries, from 1722 to this year. This was compared with 261 runner-ups who never served in the top office.

In Britain and other parliamentary democracies, the researchers looked at politicians who served as party leaders at the time of their election to the legislature.

After adjusting for life expectancy at the time of the last election, elected heads of government lived 2.7 years less than non-elected rivals.

"We found that heads of governments had substantially accelerated mortality compared with runner-up candidates," says the study. "Our findings suggest elected leaders may indeed age more quickly."

It is hard to say exactly why being president or prime minister might make somebody prematurely grey or send him to an early grave, but stress is likely involved, Prof Jena said. "Certain hormones like cortisol may be elevated, which in turn accelerate diseases such as cardiovascular disease," he added.

One limitation of the study is that focusing on survival after the last polls might introduce bias because unhealthy leaders might not seek another term, the authors concede.

Both the winners and runners-up might also have life expectancies that differ from ordinary citizens.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Elected leaders 'age faster and die sooner''. Print Edition | Subscribe