Despite a common assumption that life in the White House prematurely ages its occupants and speculation that it may even shorten life spans, a new statistical analysis has found that most presidents have actually lived longer than other American men their age.
WASHINGTON — Despite a common assumption that life in the White House prematurely ages its occupants and speculation that it may even shorten life spans, a new statistical analysis has found that most presidents have actually lived longer than other American men their age. And all living presidents have either already surpassed the average expected life span or are likely to do so.
S. Jay Olshansky, an expert on aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago, gathered the evidence and concluded that 23 of the 34 presidents who died of natural causes “lived beyond the average life expectancy for men of the same age when they were inaugurated.”
“We don’t die of gray hair and wrinkled skin,” said Olshansky, whose findings will be published on Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Olshansky first became intrigued by presidential longevity when he heard chatter in the news media about the signs, around President Obama’s 50th-birthday celebration in August, that the president was aging quickly.
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But after 25 years of research on life expectancy, Olshansky was skeptical that the job was taking years off of presidents’ lives. So Olshansky, who specializes in biodemography, the study of factors that influence the duration of life, set out to gather the data needed to answer the question.
He relied on standard life tables and public data about the presidents’ years of birth and inauguration to calculate how long each would have been expected to live on the day he was inaugurated.
To account for claims that presidents age twice as fast while in the White House, he subtracted two days of life from every day in office. He compared the estimated life span at age of inauguration with how long each president who died of natural causes lived.
The mean age of the presidents who died of natural causes was 73.0 years compared with an estimated 68.1 years they would have been expected to live had they aged twice as fast while in office.
Four survived into their 90s. Gerald Ford was 93.5 when he died; Reagan 93.3; John Adams 90.7; and Herbert Hoover, 90.2.