Monday, January 29, 2007
A recent article in The Economist, available here, reports on the finding by Professors Matthew Rablen and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick (in a paper entitled "Mortality and Immortality," available here) that "Nobel science laureates live significantly longer than those of their [contemporaries] who were nominated for a prize but failed to receive one."
The paper studies scientists and their colleagues who were nominated for or won one of the Nobel science prizes during the period 1901 (the first year of the prizes) and 1950. The data set included only men )to get away from gender differences in life expectancy) and "eliminated those killed prematurely." The data set contained 135 men who won the prize and 389 men who were nominate d for but did not win the prize. Nominations were secret during this period, so there was no effect of public humiliation from being known to have been nominated and not winning(see below).
"Dr. Rablen and Dr. Oswald found that the winners lived, on average, two years longer than those who had merely been nominated." They were able to control for income and the shifting value of the prize money so as to be able to show no correlation between income levels, the value of the prize money, and life duration.
This research is part of an intriguing line of work that purports to find that "status per se, rather than the trappings of status, such as wealth, act to prolong life." The origin of this hypothesis is the work of Sir Michael Marmot of University College, London, who found that high-status British civil servants were healthier and lived longer than those civil servants lower in the hierarchy. This finding was contrary to expectation, which was that the high stress of being at the top of the bureaucracy would take a toll on health, not enhance it.
In a similar vein, Donald Redelmeier and Sheldon Singh found that "Oscar-winning actors and actresses live 3.6 years longer than those who are nominated but do not win. However, in that case, the failed nominees do know that they have failed. And, curiously, Oscar-winning scriptwriters live 3.6 years less than do nominees."