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Academia and the Profession |

Do Oscar Winners Live Longer than Less Successful Peers? A Reanalysis of the Evidence

Marie-Pierre Sylvestre, MSc; Ella Huszti, MSc; and James A. Hanley, PhD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From McGill University and Montréal General Hospital, Montréal, Québec, Canada.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Corresponding Author: James A. Hanley, PhD, Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, 1020 Pine Avenue West, Montréal, Québec H3A 1A2, Canada; e-mail, james.hanley@mcgill.ca.

Current Author Addresses: Ms. Sylvestre and Huszti and Dr. Hanley: Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, 1020 Pine Avenue West, Montréal, Québec H3A 1A2, Canada.

Ann Intern Med. 2006;145(5):361-363. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-145-5-200609050-00009
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In an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine in 2001, Redelmeier and Singh reported that Academy Award–winning actors and actresses lived almost 4 years longer than their less successful peers. However, the statistical method used to derive this statistically significant difference gave winners an unfair advantage because it credited an Oscar winner's years of life before winning toward survival subsequent to winning. When the authors of the current article reanalyzed the data using methods that avoided this “immortal time” bias, the survival advantage was closer to 1 year and was not statistically significant. The type of bias in Redelmeier and Singh's study is not limited to longevity comparisons of persons who reach different ranks within their profession; it can, and often does, occur in nonexperimental studies of life- or time-extending benefits of medical interventions. The current authors suggest ways in which researchers and readers may avoid and recognize this bias.


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Lexis diagram showing life course for 9 selected performers (all nominated), along with their status at the time of the 8 risk sets (1 at each death).

A Lexis diagram (4) represents each performer's time course as a diagonal line, with advancing age on the vertical axis and advancing calendar time on the horizontal axis. Winners, by virtue of their having lived long enough to win, were, in hindsight, “immortal” in the years that preceded their win. Circles and squares at the left of the figure indicate ages at which winners won and ages at death of those who died without winning.

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Appendix Figure.
Selected post-win survival of a group of 238 persons of the same sex, birth year, and age at win as performers who won.

Survival calculated actuarially from the coefficients of a logistic model (with age, sex, year, and status) fitted to the performer-years after each winner's and each never-nominated performer's first film. Status (already a winner and nonwinner), age, and year were updated yearly. Curves obtained by setting the mortality rate reduction to zero (dashed line), the point estimate of the reduction parameter (solid line), and the upper and lower 95% limits of this (dotted lines) are shown. Calculation for each individual terminated at the year 2001, or age 110 years, whichever came first.

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