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Social Status and Life Expectancy in an Advantaged Population: A Study of Academy Award–Winning Actors FREE

[+] Article and Author Information

The summary below is from the full report titled “Survival in Academy Award–Winning Actors and Actresses.” It is in the 15 May 2001 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 134, pages 955-962). The authors are DA Redelmeier and SM Singh.


Ann Intern Med. 2001;134(10):S6. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-134-10-200105150-00005
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What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

Low social status is known to be associated with poor health. For example, poor populations have worse outcomes from illness than wealthy populations, and studies of civil service workers in Great Britain have shown that higher job status is associated with longer life expectancy. It is not known, however, whether higher social status is associated with better health even among people who are already socially and economically well-to-do.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

To explore whether increased social status of the kind that comes with winning a highly regarded professional award is associated with living longer in people who are already socially and economically advantaged.

Who was studied?

The researchers studied all 762 actors and actresses who have ever been nominated for an Academy Award (“Oscar”) in a leading or supporting movie role through the year 2000. For each nominated actor, the researchers also identified controls. Controls were performers who were in the same film, were the same sex, and were born in the same era as the nominees but who were not nominated for an Academy Award in that film.

How was the study done?

Using information from the All Movie Guide (www.allmovie.com) and the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), as well as from the National Film Information Service and printed sources, the researchers gathered such information as actors' birth and death dates, country of birth, ethnic background, age at making of their first film, and total number of films. The researchers then calculated how long Academy Award winners lived compared with actors who were nominated but never won and with actors who had never been nominated.

What did the researchers find?

Of the 1649 actors studied, 772 had died. Winners lived 3.9 years longer than actors who were nominated but did not win an Academy Award and those who were never nominated; on average, winners lived to be 79.7 years old, while nonwinners lived to be 75.8 years old. Winning multiple Academy Awards was associated with additional benefit in life expectancy, but additional nominations or acting in additional films were not.

What were the limitations of the study?

The researchers did not have information about other important health factors, such as education, income, family and personal medical history, and health habits (for example, tobacco, alcohol, and drug use), for each of the actors. Without that information, the study cannot tell us why winners live longer than nonwinners.

What are the implications of the study?

Widespread professional recognition appears to be associated with living longer among movie actors. It will be interesting to see whether such associations also exist among other groups of people who are at less extreme positions in society.

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