Conventional wisdom used to be that U.S. presidents aged twice as fast as other Americans. But a study from the University of Chicago finds that most presidents actually live longer than expected for men of their same age and era.
“It just didn’t make any sense that they would age at twice the normal rate, considering all of the advantages they should have toward longevity,” says Jay Olshansky, a University of Illinois at Chicago demographer and professor of epidemiology. “I became obsessed with testing this hypothesis.”
To accomplish this, Olshansky calculated how long U.S. presidents would have been expected to live based on their age and the year they were inaugurated, comparing it with how long they actually lived. What he found was that 23 of the 34 U.S. presidents who died from natural causes lived longer, and in many cases significantly longer, than predicted.
Particularly remarkable was the discovery that the average lifespan of the first eight presidents was 79.8 years -- at a time when male life expectancy at birth was lower than 40.
“It’s clearly not just about access to health care, because health care in the 17th and 18th centuries wasn’t exactly stellar,” Olshansky says.
While they're in the White House, modern-day presidents gain access to an array of free health care services. Ex-presidents can get medical treatment at U.S. military hospitals but must pay for it at rates set by the federal government. Former two-term presidents can purchase health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
In this slideshow, we hail the 15 longest-living presidents and offer some theories on why they stood the test of time.