- 23 October 2008
- From New Scientist Print Edition.
- Andy Coghlan
EXECUTIVES who build successful companies, Olympic athletes and even some US presidents are all likely to live longer than the average Joe - because they are more conscientious.
The life-prolonging benefits of a scrupulous life have come to light from a comparison of 20 previous studies which together rated 8900 people for conscientiousness using a standard psychological survey, and also recorded the age they died.
Howard Friedman and Margaret Kern at the University of California at Riverside found that people who were less conscientious were 50 per cent more likely to die at any given age, on average, than those of the same age who scored highly
Meaning?? How much longer do they live - in years. Relative v Absolute figures.
(Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/0278-6220.127.116.115). This exceeds the effects of socioeconomic status and intelligence, which are also known to increase longevity.
Friedman and Kern then divided the most conscientious study subjects into subgroups, and found that high achievers were most likely to live the longest. "These are individuals who are hard-working, resourceful, confident and ambitious," says Kern. Second in line were orderly people. Finally, traits of responsibility and reliability were also significant. "These are people who are often seen as respectable members of the community, who contribute time and energy to society, cooperate with colleagues and neighbours, and are trustworthy," says Kern.
conscientious people do not live longer simply because they are boring or cautious, but admits they tend to "live lives that are more stable and less stressful".
"One of the studies we included looked at American presidents," says Kern. The first US president, George Washington, lived to be 67, double the life expectancy there at the time. "Washington was very conscientious, yet he certainly didn't live a boring life." For starters, he led his army to victory over Britain in the American revolutionary war.
Death - Delve deeper into the riddle of human mortality in our special report.