Hey, did you hear the one about the aspiring actress who moved to Hollywood? She was so dumb, she slept with the writers.

 * * *

Admittedly, it’s an old and tired joke. But with this April’s edition of the American Sociological Review, it’s acquired new edge. A research team at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has compared the longevity of Emmy-winning screenwriters with their not-so-high-falutin’ peers, and they've done the same for baseball Hall of Fame inductees, Emmy-winning actors, and former Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States.  Professor of Sociomedical Sciences Bruce Link and his crew pursued this line of inquiry because a few decades of research has shown a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and long life. They wanted to get specific about the why and when of any correlation.

The team found that the joke really is on screenwriters. On average, Emmy-winning screenwriters die 3 years earlier than their competing peers. This is as compared to Emmy-winning actors, who live 2.7 years longer than their also-rans.  Meanwhile, the longevity of baseball Hall-of-Famers is largely unaffected by their heightened status. Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States actually fare worse than screenwriters. On average they die 5.3 years younger than do the candidates over whom they triumphed.

So has the long-assumed link between socioeconomic status and long life been disproved? The report suggests that the understanding of the link has at least acquired nuance. Longevity seems influenced by the benefits accrued from increased status but also by the stresses.

Emmy awards bring actors a huge career and income boost, easing their access to luxuries and to excellent health care. But baseball Hall-of-Famers receive their awards towards the end of their life; that’s too late for the boost in status to have much of a life-prolonging effect. Presidents and Vice Presidents gain body guards and private physicians but assume debiliting stressors when they are sworn in. And then there are the assassinations threats … and assassinations.

Ok. Nobody’s shooting the screenwriters. Their position in Hollywood’s power hierarchy is, however, notoriously shaky. Just when they think the script they’ve cosseted is done, they watch everyone from their producers down to the kid who makes the run for deli food have a go at their creation. Maybe you’ve heard the joke:

Two Hollywood development executives take a meeting.

“I’m so excited,” one gushes. “I’ve finally found the script of my dreams! Never have I acquired a ‘property’ I’ve liked so well. Never has anything been so perfect in every detail. I can hardly wait to produce it!"

“So why wait? What’s the holdup?” the other development exec asks.

 “It’s in re-write.”

+ + +

Rebecca Coffey is author of MURDERS MOST FOUL: And the School Shooters in Our Midst.

Follow Rebecca Coffey on Twitter. @rebeccacoffey

 

About the Author

Rebecca Coffey

Rebecca Coffey is a science journalist and broadcast commentator with Vermont Public Radio. 

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