Do Popular People Live Longer?

People who have achieved high social status not only attend better parties, but also may have better health and greater happiness than their lowly contemporaries, New Scientist reports of research from University College London in the United Kingdom.

Call it the status syndrome. It's not about income, but rather the prestige and status one achieves in life. People who have climbed to the higher end of that ladder live happier and longer lives than their lowly contemporaries, insists epidemiologist Michael Marmot. However, there is one catch: One size does not fit all. The effects of this "social gradient" on health can vary widely depending on time and location.

Marmot's 30 years of research about social status has largely been conducted in Western countries where absolute deprivation and poverty are rare and income is not as important a factor for happiness and health as it might be in a third world nation. "Where you stand in the social hierarchy--on the social ladder--is intimately related to your chances of getting ill and the length of your life," writes Marmot in his book "Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity."

An example of the status syndrome: People who have earned doctoral degrees tend to live longer than those who have master's degrees.

Much of Marmot's conclusions are based on the Whitehall study, which followed the health of British civil servants and their job grades from the 1970s onwards, notes New Scientist. That study concluded that the people who were at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy, especially clerks and messengers, were more likely to suffer coronary heart disease than the big bosses at the top. Marmot realizes that it's not quite so simple as this and that social arrangements, education, and social cohesion are critical factors as well. "Hierarchies are inevitable, but how hierarchies are translated to differences in health is the crucial question. It varies across time and societies," he told New Scientist.

Why do people of lower social status have poorer health? Lack of control and fewer opportunities for full social participation are likely answers. A CEO may have a very stressful job, but the stress may not be difficult to bear if it is predictable and somewhat within that person's control. In addition, such a position carries high social status and that brings more support, as well as more outlets for the stress.

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