CEOs die earlier because of stress, study finds

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Stress induced from working long hours and making high-stakes decisions translates to a shorter life and faster aging for CEOs, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

In the March study, researchers focused on wealthy CEOs of large publicly traded companies that were largely isolated from health effects related to finances. Study authors analyzed the birth and death dates of 1,605 CEOs of the large firms, and used machine-learning tools to assess visible aging using a sample of 3,086 photos of the 2006 Fortune 500 CEOs over the course of their tenure.

When CEOs were under significant stress, like during an economic downturn, it shaved 18 months off their lifespan, the researchers found. Conversely, their lifespan increased by two years when they were insulated from market pressures.  

Analysis of pictures showed that exposure to a significant event like the Great Recession increased CEOs' visible age by a year over the next decade, according to the research.

"Stricter corporate governance regimes — which are generally viewed as desirable and welfare-improving — and financial distress impose significant personal health costs to CEOs," the researchers concluded. "While we lack direct physical or medical measures of heightened stress, the evidence implies that stricter governance and economic downturns constitutes a substantial personal cost for CEOs in terms of their health and life expectancy."

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