Politicians live longer than the rest of the population in developed countries. A new study showed why — ČT24 — Czech Television

In recent years, the increase in average life expectancy has stopped in a number of rich countries, while in the poorest social strata this parameter has even started to decrease. This is the effect of deepening inequality, which has been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic. For example, according to the latest figures, men in the poorest areas of England live almost ten years less than their peers in the wealthiest regions, and for women the difference in life expectancy is seven years.

These discrepancies, which have a social origin, have led scientists to be more interested in this phenomenon. Therefore, they began to investigate whether there are any professions that are associated with better health and therefore a longer life span. One such group is politicians.

Until now, studies comparing the mortality of politicians and the general population have usually focused on just one or a few countries. New work led by Oxford Population Health researchers at the end of June produced the most comprehensive analysis yet, based on data from eleven high-income countries. Results were published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

In it, scientists analyzed data on politicians from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, Great Britain and the USA. For each country, data was available from 1945 to 2014, but for some countries, such as France, the authors of the research reached as far as the 19th century.

The combined data set included 57,561 politicians, of whom 40,637 had died. The proportion of women among politicians varied from three percent (France and the USA) to twenty-one percent (Germany). The researchers compared the number of deaths of politicians in each year to the number expected based on death rates in the general population.

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The researchers also calculated the likelihood that ordinary people and politicians aged 45 would die within the next ten years and every subsequent decade.

The results show how the social scissors are opening

It turns out that in almost every country, politicians had similar death rates to the general population in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the course of the 20th century, however, the disparities in all observed countries widened significantly, so that politicians had an ever-greater advantage in terms of survival compared to the general population.

The extent of this survival advantage varied widely between countries. In Italy, for example, a typical non-politician was 2.2 times more likely to die in the following year than a politician of the same age and sex, but in New Zealand it was only 1.2 times more likely.

The difference in life expectancy at age 45 between politicians and the general population also increased significantly during the second half of the 20th century. It currently ranges from around three years in Switzerland to seven years in the US.

Money is not the answer to everything

It might seem that these differences in life expectancy are due to the fact that politicians usually have salaries well above the average level of the population. However, according to the authors, while this may indeed be one of the reasons, these results suggest that there must be other factors at play.

Indeed, income inequality began to grow in the 1980s, but differences in life expectancy began to widen much earlier, before 1940.

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Scientists believe that the increase in the life expectancy of politicians may be due to a number of factors. Differences in the quality of health care can play a significant role, but so can the healthier lifestyle of public officials.

According to the study, the availability of better treatment for health problems that more often affect politicians, such as cardiovascular diseases, can also play a role. Since the availability of antihypertensive drugs became more widespread in the 1960s, the risk of death from circulatory system diseases has decreased significantly, and therefore the effect of this “occupational disease” on the life expectancy of politicians may have decreased.

Other explanations are rather speculative, but according to the authors, it is possible, for example, that the politicians themselves have changed. Modern politics, which is very intensively associated with a high level of communication with voters and in the media, may attract different types of people than in the past, the authors of the study think. Other research has indicated that people with a higher degree of social contact live to a longer age.

The researchers add that because the study focused on high-income countries, the results may not be generalizable to low- and middle-income countries.

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