It has been known for centuries that the rich and famous have longer lives than the poor and ordinary. Causality, however, remains trenchantly debated. The ideal experiment would be one in which status and money could somehow be dropped upon a sub-sample of individuals while those in a control group received neither. This paper attempts to formulate a test in that spirit. It collects 19th-century birth data on science Nobel Prize winners and nominees. Using a variety of corrections for potential biases, the paper concludes that winning the Nobel Prize, rather than merely being nominated, is associated with between 1 and 2 years of extra longevity. Greater wealth, as measured by the real value of the Prize, does not seem to affect lifespan.
The natural worry here is a selection bias, in which people who die at age X are less likely to receive the prize (for example, if you die at age 60, but you would have received the prize had you lived past age 62). The authors address this using a survival-analysis approach to condition on the age at which the relevant scientists are nominated for or receive the prize.
Two years is a large effect, but at the same time I could imagine this difference occurring from some sort of statistical artifact, so I would’t call such a study conclusive, but it adds to the literature on status, health, and longevity.
Explanation of the above title to this blog entry
Thinking more about the particular case of Nobel Prizes, I’ve long thought that the pain of not receiving the prize is far greater, on average, than the joy of receiving it. Feeling like you deserve the prize, then not getting it year after year . . . that can be frustrating, I’d think. Sort of like waiting for that promotion that never comes. Getting it, on the other hand, I’m sure is nice, but so many more eligible people don’t get it than do (and the No comes year after year). I’d guess that it’s a net reducer of scientists’ lifespans.