Still from the film, Valhalla (2013), which explored the mountain culture of Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. Image Source: Sweetgrass Productions via under solen.
Your job can determine how long you live. It may even be the most important decision you ever make with respect to your mortality. Pacific Standard: "Burn brilliantly, or burn long: The choice is yours." In fact, it looks like you can do both, as long as you are willing to change career paths more than once in your life.
Data in life expectancy studies are used to determine policy with regard to retirement age and retiree benefits, critical factors in the economy as the wave of Baby Boomer retirements continues. Retirement age may be a factor in decreased lifespans, but studies conflict on whether you should retire early or late to stay alive longer:
Of course, the main question in longevity is the overall condition of a society, with prosperity always extending lifespans by 30 years or more. Life expectancies have increased an astonishing amount since the Industrial Revolution, and the rate of increase is now counted by days, single years or half-decades instead of decades or centuries in previous eras:"A paper attributed to the aircraft-maker Boeing shows that employees who retire at 55 live to, on average, 83. But those who retire at 65 only last, on average, another 18 months. ... Epidemiologists at the oil firm Shell carried out a study of past employees in the US, which found that mortality was slightly earlier - on average - for staff who retired at 55, than for those who continued working to 65."
In the Bronze and Iron Age [Life Expectancy at Birth, or] LEB was 26 years; the 2010 world LEB was 67.2. For recent years in Swaziland LEB is about 49 years while in Japan is about 83 years. The combination of high infant mortality and deaths in young adulthood from accidents, epidemics, plagues, wars, and childbirth, particularly before modern medicine was widely available, significantly lowers LEB. But for those who survive early hazards, a life expectancy of sixty or seventy would not be uncommon.
"This colour coded map shows the life expectancy in 222 of the world's nations. Nations shaded dark blue are those where people are expected to live to over 80, and they include most of the developed countries which have compulsory state-funded healthcare like the most of the countries of Western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Jordan and Japan. With the exception of Afghanistan, the countries with the lowest life expectancies are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Inhabitants of Afghanistan, Swaziland, South Africa, Guinea-Bissau and Chad are not expected to reach 50." Image Source: CIA World Factbook (2012) via Daily Mail.
"This is a chart depicting trends in life expectancy at birth by various regions of the world from 1950-2050. The data come from the UN World Population Prospects 2008." Image Source: Wiki.
Japan leads the list of countries in terms of life expectancy: "Comparison of male and female life expectancy at birth for countries and territories as defined in the 2013 CIA Factbook, with selected bubbles labelled. The dotted line corresponds to equal female and male life expectancy. The apparent 3D volumes of the bubbles are linearly proportional to their population." Image Source: Cmglee at Wiki.
How far can lifestyle improvements, genetic treatments, medical advances and anti-ageing therapies extend lifespans? An Australian government study, discussed on Google Answers, speculated on whether or not human beings have a built-in biological age limit:
There are different ways of calculating life expectancies; everyone these days thinks that the mysteries of existence can be unlocked with algorithms:“There is a good deal of debate about whether life expectancy will continue to increase, and there are two opposing schools of thought. Some analysts believe that there is a biological limit to an average life of around 85 years which has nearly been reached; others believe that life expectancy will continue to increase as a result of further medical advances and better lifestyles. There is no doubt that there is more room for improvement among some groups of the population than among others.”
One forecasting approach that is based on historic data is the Lee-Carter method. This has been shown to be reliable, and it takes incorporate a randomness factor, to take into account unexpected events. Using this method, the estimated life expectancy for 2065 is 86.1 years. From: Life Expectancy in the Future – A Summary of a Discussion Among Experts, by Robert B Friedland.
A 2011 Dilbert joke changed the term 'work-life balance' to 'work-life integration,' which is more accurate and inspired this cartoon from Michael Kwan. Image Source: Michael Kwan / Beyond the Rhetoric.
The best jobs for work-life balance suggest 'work' and 'life' are a false dichotomy. Jobs which integrate life and work in positive ways, as when work includes positive lifestyle elements such as exercise, family or social aspects, hobbies or natural vocations, are better for employees. Image Source: Business Insider.
Men versus women: reports differ, but most state that women remain more stressed at work, with discriminatory lower incomes even in top professions where they have equal levels of training and education, and more family demands. Nevertheless, they still have longer life expectancies. That gap is narrowing. In the UK, life expectancy is increasing at a rate of four hours per day for females and six hours per day for males. Images Sources: Wuzzuf, Random Dysfunctions, Farscape, In Power Women, Faculty Success.
Job choice is a lifestyle choice and has an impact on quality and length of life. Studies generally agree that wealth, higher education and professional jobs lead to longer lives. The people with the hard numbers on this are insurance companies. However, they rarely assess new-fangled professions that have evolved in the past 10 to 20 years. Moreover, most studies do not account for workplace changes which have taken place since the Great Recession. In the classic professions, increasingly harsh managerial techniques, employers' decreasing sense of care for, and obligation to, their employees, and worsening white collar working conditions are already reducing lifespans, according to a MetLife study loosely cited by World Life Expectancies:
Staying employed versus joblessness: employment and unemployment were found to be factors in life expectancies for white men and women in the United States in 1992. Staying employed increased lifespans, as did higher levels of education, higher income levels, and increased autonomy and independence. Risk factors for people with lower incomes include poorer diets and smoking. Risk factors for people with higher incomes include sitting - sedentary desk work (leading to the invention of standing and treadmill desks), smoking and drinking, aggressive workplace cultures, and the threat or reality of sudden job loss. Those latter concerns reduced the higher longevity of white collar workers, sometimes by up to three years of life.A recent study by Met Life revealed some alarming statistics related to job satisfaction you may have not been exposed to before....The percentage of U.S. employers who say they feel a very strong sense of loyalty to their employees has held steady at 57%. But the percentage of employees who say they feel a very strong sense of loyalty to their employers has fallen to 47%, from 59% in 2008, and the percentage who say their companies have a very strong sense of loyalty to them has fallen to 33%, from 41%.About 40% of the employees surveyed said they have been working harder in the past 12 months, and 25% said they feel even less secure in their jobs this year than they did a year ago, the researchers say. About 36% of current employees say they would like to be working somewhere else by the end of the year.Add this data to the "real unemployment" stats of 17% and maybe things aren't quite as rosy on the Jobs front as some folks would like us to believe. A total of 53% either unable to find work or unhappy with what they do is more than a blip on the screen of social change. These levels of frustration and unhappiness are unprecedented in our memory and health issues seem sure to follow.
Another curious outcome of increased lifespans over the 20th century is that people now often have a second career path, starting at mid-life. This was impossible when life expectancy was 50. But when life expectancy is 80, or even 100, having two or more career paths is normal. Switching careers at mid-life can be stressful, but it can also improve health and thus may even extend lifespans. The growing number of work and life coaches who focus on midlife transitions suggests that these niche professionals are addressing a larger trend, which is sometimes still viewed as a 'mid-life crisis' (a term coined by Canadian psychologist Elliott Jaques in 1965) or failure. Psychologists even found that human midlife slumps correspond to midlife depressions in captive apes, at ages comparable to the human ages of 45 to 50, observed by chimp and orangutan keepers in Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and the USA.
Whether you call it a crisis or not, midlife self-reflection spurs individual evolution, improved cognition, and a spurt of personal growth. The midlife crisis is sometimes now greeted as being courageous and inspirational. The American actress, Justine Bateman, who starred on the 1980s television sitcom, Family Ties, recently became an undergraduate student at UCLA in California in her late forties; she blogs about her new career experience (here) as a creative and very challenging undertaking. She has in the process become a standard bearer for other people undergoing similar transitions.
These decisions around jobs or career path are often the most critical health-related choices an individual will ever make in his or her lifetime. A 2011 study found that job choice was more important as a determinant of length of life than the total combined impact of race, gender, marital status, rural or urban location, education or income level! Whether or not the brain is challenged on the job has an effect on longevity: mindless, boring and repetitive jobs increase mortality more than high power office stresses. Jobs that require complex reasoning, teamwork and attention to detail extend a worker's lifespan, even if those jobs are more stressful.
Below is a summary of job-based lifespan averages, with health risks and diseases, from different sources. Data on professional lifespans vary according to year of study, content of studies, and country. In cases of variations, I have noted different average lifespans and linked the sources:
- Correctional Officers: 59 years; in the United States a 1982 study found that Correctional Officers had worse lifespan expectations due to their jobs than Police Officers: "A recent study of the consequences of job stress in correctional officers revealed that the life expectancy of a correctional officer is 59 years, compared to 75 years for the national average. Stress, as manifested in many physical illnesses including hypertension, heart attacks, and ulcers, was found to be higher than that of a comparable sample of police officers. Moreover, alcoholism and divorce rates are higher for correctional officers than for the population in general. As a result, correctional organizations spend enormous sums annually for sick leave, compensation, and liability claims. Stress among correctional officers and administrators is often caused by the conflicting goals of custody and rehabilitation, trial and error in management, and the correctional system's vulnerability to political and community groups."
- Long haul truck driving has one of the highest incidents of on-the-job deaths: 61 years; "In terms of absolute number of deaths per year, long-haul truck driving actually has the highest number because of the sheer number of people employed in the profession. This profession accounts for nearly a quarter of all workplace deaths in the U.S., with 1,141 dying in 2010."
- Police Officers: 66 years (USA)
- Professional and Olympic Athletes, mortality depends on the sport: 77.4 years; 77 years; 53 to 59 years; 54 years for National Football League players in the United States. Lifespan depends on the sport: "Professional Wrestlers & NFL Players make for a small data set, however, their deaths are rather public. Our sister site, Deadspin, does a tongue-cheek update called 'Dead Wrestler of the Week' — a look back at the often sad, premature deaths of celebrity wrestlers from our youth. The population of professional wrestlers is not that large, but another segment of sports is a bit larger –- professional football players. Data has been collected consistently by the NFL Players Association and was made public during to the recent labor dispute, between 53 to 59, depending on position, with linemen having the lowest life expectancy.This decrease in life expectancy was not observed in Olympic athletes, however — a 1993 retrospective study showed them to live four to five years longer than the average person. The average football player, meanwhile, gives up twenty years of his lifespan in pursuit of his profession."
- Other physical professions, such as logging and fishing, have high incidents of on-the-job deaths: "Logging and fishing ... are another story. Looking forward to a life outdoors? Expect a thirty-fold increase in deaths per year. 90 loggers per 100,000 die each year. And the figure is 118 per 100,000, for those working in the fishing industry. If you worked four to five years with in either of these industries, there is a very good statistical chance that at least one of your co-workers would die in a workplace accident, with several others being disabled."
- Construction Workers and other physically demanding occupations: In Austria, the average age of ending work out of physical necessity is 55.4 years. Eurofound: "One of the main methodological problems is separating the influence of other factors, such as nutritional habits, health awareness, etc. Although the study could not solve this problem, it does provide some evidence that, in sectors with physically strenuous work, the rise of the legal retirement age, as set out in pension reforms, will create difficulties for many workers. Unless pension reforms consider special arrangements for workers in physically strenuous jobs and focus on ensuring sustainable work, they will worsen existing social inequalities based on inequitable working conditions."
- "Data are not provided for Austria by occupation or sector, but by educational level. The risk of death during the prime employment age period (35-64 years) among employees with only basic school level education is twice that of university graduates; in the 65-89 age group, the difference declines to 47%." (Hat tip: Lion of the Blogosphere)
- "Data from Switzerland, compar[es] mortality rates by occupation. These data indicate that occupations in physically strenuous work sectors show a clearly higher mortality compared with the average (e.g. occupations in the construction industry 51.2%, forestry 48%, wood-processing industry 35%); architects, engineers, doctors and teachers, on the other hand, show a mortality rate far below the average."
- Government Officials: 71 years
- Physicians: 73 years (white male, USA, year 2000); 68.7 years (black male, USA, year 2000); 55-59 years (India)
- Show Business, Actors, Cinema, Theatre performers: 77.1 years; 77 years; 70 years; "'Fame and achievement in performance-related careers may be earned at the cost of a shorter life expectancy,' write Australian researchers C. R. Epstein of the University of Queensland and R. J. Epstein of the University of New South Wales. Their study is published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine." Risk factors: smoking and lung cancer, drugs, alcohol.
- Authors, Composers, Artists, Journalists: 79 years; 78.5 years; 77 years; "Creative types such as writers and artists died younger." A 2014 Russian study examined morality rates among creative people, where the average age of death varies widely depending on their dominant form of artistic activity. Classical musicians retain cognitive ability longer, but jazz musicians live shorter lives. Literary writers have tended over history to live shorter lives than visual artists, musicians and scientists. Today, female rock musicians (in Russia?) have an average age of death of 37.6 years, while female harpists live to an average of 80.9 years.
- Labourers, Cleaners: 79 years
- Firefighters: 79 years
- Religious Leaders: 82 years
- University Professors, Historians, Economists, Higher Academic Professionals: 82 years; 74 years; 72.7 years (depending on location)
- Politicians: 82.1 years; 79 years. "People in business, politics, and the military hung on the longest."
- Businesspeople: 83 years; 82.3 years; 73 years (depending on location)
- Teachers, Nurses: 83 years
- Lawyers, Accountants: 80-85 years; 84 years; 78 years
- Military: 84.7 years
Image Source: BBC.
The UK in 2007: "Middle-class professionals such as doctors and accountants are outliving builders and cleaners by as much as eight years, according to official figures." Image Source: Telegraph.