Katharine Hepburn celebrated her 94th birthday this month, and all her Oscars (she's got four of them) may have something to do with it: According to a study published in the 15 May issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, winners of Academy Awards live longer than other successful actors.
A growing body of research shows that high-status people live longer than people lower on the ladder of life. For instance, a huge longitudinal study of British civil servants, called the Whitehall Study, has shown that even in a population with good income and health benefits, the higher-status folks live longer.
The latest study indicates that even the cream separates into discernible layers. Physician Donald Redelmeier and Sheldon Singh of Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto sorted through the vital statistics of all 762 actors and actresses who have been nominated for Academy Awards in leading or supporting roles--including 235 winners--since the first awards ceremony in 1929. They also established a control group of 887 actors, matched as closely as possible for age and sex, who had appeared in the same movies. Of the total, 772 had died by March 2000.
The researchers found that life expectancy was 3.9 years longer for the winners than the controls (79.7 versus 75.8 years). The life expectancy of nominees who'd lost looked more like that of the controls, with life expectancy of 76.1 years. In all groups, the women outlived the men by 2.5 years, but winning had the same tonic effect on survival for both sexes. What's more, the authors report, there was a dose-response effect: Those with more than one Oscar had an even greater advantage--surviving controls by an average of 6 years. The results couldn't be accounted for by age of Oscar-winning, country of birth, number of films made (an indicator of income), or other factors; Redelmeier suggests that "the peace of mind" of winning an Oscar "may make a person much more resilient to all sorts of stresses."
"If the authors have properly ruled out confounding with childhood circumstances and [other factors] ... then one must add this intriguing result to what we know about the personal factors that contribute to human longevity," says psychologist Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh.