Stressed-out CEOs visibly age faster and die earlier, according to a new study

Business meeting

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that CEOs of large companies can age faster and die sooner due to the high-stress scenarios of the job.

The paper, released in March of this year, worked with lifespan data for CEOs along with photos of Fortune 500 chief executives, applying machine-learning techniques “to estimate the effects on visible signs of aging.”

The study also looked at regulatory factors like corporate legislation as well as “industry-level distress shocks” to estimate their effect on the mortality of CEOs.

In that analysis, NBER researchers found that “the estimated effect sizes are large.”

“For a typical CEO, the effect of the anti-takeover laws is equivalent to making the CEO two years younger,” essentially increasing their lifespan by two years, it concluded. The anti-takeover laws, which help a company combat a hostile takeover, are correlated with a reduction in stress.

As for industry distress and downturn, the analysis found that a “30% median firm stock-price decline over a two-year horizon” has an effect similar to 1.5 years of aging for the CEOs studied.

Machine learning was applied to photos of CEOs before and after their tenures. The researchers collected over 3,000 photos of Fortune 500 CEOs circa 2006. Their findings suggested that CEOs appear “about one year older in post-crisis years.”

The paper was written by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Yale School of Management, the Wharton School, and the University of California, Berkley.

This study adds to the body of work examining the links between stressful jobs and shorter lifespans. A 2015 study from Health Affairs showed that workers at stressful jobs were likely to die earlier, but that the risk increased for workers with less schooling. The most vulnerable group in the study, Black men with 12 or fewer years of education, were found to have a loss of nearly three years of life expectancy due to workplace factors.