Graying presidents may look like they drastically age while in office, but it could be only skin deep.
Being a president is a demanding job, especially in times like this, and it’s plausible that the stress of juggling politics, the economy and the military could literally take years off a person’s life.
Michael Rozien, M.D., a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, suggested that presidents age twice as fast as normal while in office.
But sociologist Jay Olshanksy, Ph.D., who is also a professor of public health at the University of Illinois, Chicago, doesn’t buy it.
Wealth, access to healthcare and education are all closely linked to longer lifespan, and presidents have all three resources in abundance, he said. If anything, presidents should age slower than the average person.
To test his hunch, Olshanksy collected birth, death and inauguration dates of every American president that died of natural causes and included living presidents. Then, based on their time in office, he estimated their projected lifespan under Rozien’s “accelerated aging” theory.
Most presidents, or two-thirds, lived or are living longer than their projected lifespan. Olshansky found. They also made it past the average lifespan of men in their age group.
“The first eight presidents lived an average of 79.8 years during a time when life expectancy for men was under 40,” Olshanksy said.
His findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“It seems like most presidents live exceptionally long lives,” Olshanksy said.
The obvious answer to what seems like the rapid physical aging of presidents in office may simply be that they are older when they leave the White House than when they enter. They also take office in their mid-50s, which is on average a stage in life when the external signs of aging tend to become more pronounced in men.
Also, Olshanksy said he suspected high levels of stress can contribute to superficial aging, even if they don’t shorten lifespan.
“There is good, strong literature to suggest that stress can lead to accelerated graying of hair,” he said. “There’s no question that stress has a powerful effect, but at least with regard to the presidents, it doesn’t appear to be making them die sooner.”
Olshanksy plans to study people in other high-stress jobs, like CEOs of insurance companies, to test whether stress really does influence how old they look.