Do Academy Award winners live longer?

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published March 1, 2018

Key Takeaways

As this year’s Oscars ceremony on March 4th approaches, people may be thinking about how a win can affect a nominee’s career longevity. But can it affect their actual longevity as well?

In fact, life expectancy for actors and actresses who win an Academy Award is almost 4 years longer than for those who did not, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Low socioeconomic status is a known risk factor for poor health. Indeed, studies abound on the detrimental effects of poverty on health. But Donald A. Redelmeier, MD, MSHSR, FRCPC, FACP, senior scientist, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and Sheldon M. Singh, BSc, a colleague at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Toronto, decided to change it up and study the effects of increased social status on longevity.

For their retrospective cohort analysis, they included 762 actors and actresses who had been nominated for an Academy Award in a leading or supporting role. They matched each to another cast member from the same film of the same sex and born in the same era (n=887), and calculated life expectancy and all-cause mortality.

Median duration of follow-up from birth was 66 years, during which 772 deaths occurred. The majority of these were caused by ischemic heart and malignant diseases.

Academy Award winners had a life expectancy that was a full 3.9 years longer than those who were less recognized (79.7 vs 75.8 years; P=0.003). The difference was equivalent to a 28% relative reduction in death rates (95% CI: 10%-42%).

The results remained after adjusting for year of birth, sex, ethnicity, country of birth, possible name change, age at release of first film, and total films completed.

Any additional Academy Award wins were associated with a 22% relative reduction in death rates (CI: 5%-35%). Neither additional films nor nominations were associated with any significant reductions in deaths.

“The association of high status with increased longevity that prevails in the public also extends to celebrities, contributes to a large survival advantage, and is partially explained by factors related to success,” concluded Dr. Redelmeier and Singh.

But they didn’t stop there.

These researchers also did a retrospective cohort analysis to assess whether the association between great success and longevity was also present in Academy Award-winning screenwriters. They included 850 nominated writers, who were followed for 68 years from birth. During this time, 428 died.

Their analysis showed that, on the average, winners of Academy Awards for screenwriting were again more successful than nominees, with a career that was 14% longer (27.2 vs 24.2 years; P=0.004), 34% more films (23.2 vs 17.3; P < 0.001), 58% more four-star films (4.8 vs 3.1; P < 0.001), and 62% more nominations (2.1 vs 1.3; P < 0.001).

However, the bad news is that the life expectancy for Academy Award-winning screenwriters was 3.6 years shorter compared with nominees (74.1 vs 77.7 years; P=0.004). The difference translates to a 37% relative increase in death rates (95% CI: 10-70).

After researchers adjusted for year of birth, sex, and other factors, they found a 35% relative increase in death rates (7% to 70%).

Any additional Academy Award wins were associated with a 22% relative increase in death rates (3% to 44%). Additional nominations and other films had no effects on death rate.

“The link between occupational achievement and longevity is reversed in screenwriters who win Academy Awards. Doubt is cast on simple biological theories for the survival gradients found for other members of society,” concluded Dr. Redelmeier and Singh.

All in all, a few outcomes for this Sunday’s nominees to consider as they anxiously wait for their name to be called…or not.

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