[Paleopsych] Forbes: What Kills Billionaires
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Thu Apr 14 14:09:23 UTC 2005
What Kills Billionaires
By Vanessa Gisquet
Think trophy wives, boating accidents and feckless dependents are the
primary causes of death for billionaires? Think again. Billionaires are
killed by the same unglamorous things that kill the rest of us: diseases
such as cancer, heart attacks, kidney failure and others.
The only difference is they may live a little longer.
The average age of death for the 20 billionaires featured in the 2004
and 2005 "In Memoriam" sections of the annual Forbes Billionaires list
We compared this number with the average male life expectancy in the
U.S., since all but one of the 20 billionaires on our list that died
were males: the billionaires lived 3.5 years longer than average
American males. The results would be even more dramatic if we took into
account average life expectancies from around the world, since the
billionaires on our list are of all different nationalities.
Go to Forbes.com to view a slideshow of what kills billionaires.
According to a 1999 study in the British Medical Journal, higher income
is, in fact, "casually associated with greater longevity." But when it
comes to living longer, billionaires may not be that much better off
than mere millionaires. "While an extra dollar of income is protective,"
the study reads, "the amount of protective effect tails off as total
The rich not only tend to live longer, but are healthier as well.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 23% of people
below the poverty threshold, defined as "poor," are limited by chronic
disease, whereas only 10% of "non-poor," those with an income 200% or
greater than the poverty threshold, are.
What accounts for these gaps? Traditional theories espouse that greater
wealth means greater access to medical care. But as Forbes' Dan Seligman
points out in his June 2004 article, "Why the Rich Live Longer," if
access was the key, the health gap between the upper and lower classes
should have shrunk with the advent of America's Medicare and Medicaid,
not to mention employer-sponsored health insurance.
Some use the "inequality is a killer" theory, arguing that the health
gap between the rich and the poor exists because low social status
increases stress and anxiety, which increases susceptibility to disease.
It's not entirely clear, though, whether lower-level civil servants
suffer less anxiety than, say, chief executives and billionaires.
Struggling to pay your bills and having to answer to angry stockholders
are both stressful, each in their own way.
Some studies contend that rich live longer because of intellectual
Darwinism. "Social status," Seligman writes, "correlates strongly and
positively with IQ and other measures of intelligence, and intelligence
correlates strongly with health literacy--the ability to understand and
follow a prescription for disease prevention and treatment." This theory
is not without evidence: Seligman cites a 2003 study by psychologist Ian
Deary of the University of Edinburgh that found mortality rates to be
17% higher for each 15-point falloff in IQ.
Since most of what kills Americans today is chronic disease, health
literacy may, in fact, be a key to longevity. Understanding and
monitoring risk factors for the major conditions that predispose us to
death--heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, high blood
pressure--requires a considerable amount of awareness, discipline and
And when it comes to prevention, being rich certainly doesn't hurt.
So-called executive physicals, offered at places like the Princeton
Longevity Center, Canyon Ranch and the Mayo Clinic, cost anywhere from
$2,000 to $7,000, and most insurers cover only a small percentage of
These pricey super-physicals get done in one day, in one office, instead
of what would normally involve a half-dozen different doctor's
appointments with various specialists. Included are usually the latest
diagnostic imaging techniques, like CT-scans of the heart, which detect
calcium buildup in arteries that can signal heart disease, and virtual
colonoscopies, as well as advanced blood tests that might detect early
stages of disease, and nutrition and fitness assessments.
Many of the facilities that offer executive physicals have on-site labs
that provide same-day results, which give "executive" patients the added
benefit of being able to discuss the results--and any suggested targeted
therapies--with the team of doctors, without any hassle.
Enough money can even make an otherwise dreary hospital stay that much
more comfortable. A handful of the nation's top hospitals have "luxury"
accommodations, an indulgence that must be, of course, paid for
out-of-pocket. The rooms and suites in the 16th-floor Shapiro Pavilion
at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., for example, are
priced at $325 to $800 out-of-pocket. The 14 rooms feature bidets in all
bathrooms, 300-thread-count sheets, kitchenettes, flat-screen TVs and
pull-out couches for guests who want to spend the night. The unit has a
gourmet chef, and is even locked for high-security. Other hospitals such
as Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts General and Cedars-Sinai--just to name a
few--all have similar luxury units.
Most people don't think of themselves as lucky if their health or mental
status require around the clock home health care, but the
alternative--being in a nursing home--might make them feel fortunate.
Perhaps not surprisingly, home health care costs, on average, more than
double what it costs to be in a nursing home.
According to the 2004 MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Home and Home
Care Costs, the average daily cost of a private room in a nursing home
in the U.S. is $70,080 per year, or $192 per day. The study found that
the cost of a home health care aide averaged $18 per hour nationally,
which turns out to be $432 per day.
Three of the billionaires were not included in the list because their
causes of death were not specified. Marvin Davis, famous for buying 20th
Century Fox and selling it four years later to Rupert Murdoch's News
Corp., and also for owing Pebble Beach Co., the Aspen Skiing Co., and
the Beverly Hills Hotel, for instance, died after a "long illness."
Friends say he had long suffered from heart trouble, diabetes and other
effects of obesity, but what actually caused his death was not released.
Portugal's richest man, Antonio Champalimaud, who passed away in May of
2004, suffered a "prolonged illness," and reportedly died in his home in
Lisbon. Saudi billionaire Abdulaziz Bin Hamad Algosaibi's cause of death
was also not specified.
Around the clock personal nurses and 300 thread-count sheets aside, even
all their money can't buy billionaires immortality.
To see a list of the leading causes of death among billionaires, click
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