Research evaluate which professions lend themselves to longevity and engineering is an occupation in which people tend to live longer lives...
It’s a question asked and researched time and again: what factors make for a long life? As early as the 1850s, studies crop up examining the life expectancies of those engaged in different occupations and for a good reason: people spend around a third of their life working. It stands to reason that work environments contribute to these factors. Physical demands, work-related stress, the intensity of your work schedule — how much do these elements affect one’s long-term health outcomes? Can your choice of career help determine your longevity?
It is sometimes claimed that engineers live longer. It would make a certain sense; engineering salaries are on the higher end and provide larger benefits packages while often requiring lower physical demands than other occupations. On the other hand, working in engineering can require long hours and stressful deadlines. So, do engineers tend to have longer lives? Recent studies took into account elements such as stressors most likely to cause death to have some answers for what jobs make for a longer, healthier life.
A number of studies are based on the longitudinal survival method (LSM), inspired by the techniques of direct mortality estimation, which are used to produce demographic estimates despite a lack of detailed data on deaths and the overall population. These “indirect methods” rely on survey questions included in the census or other special survey projects.
Past research has shown an incredible variation in life expectancy around the United States, as much as a 33-year difference on average depending on factors such as county of residence, race, education level, and gender. Some of these do not break down employment outside of broad categories, but all project the same data: those with more education have an average longer life expectancy, as do those in the workforce, and those with higher family income.
So, broadly, those in technical professions with higher salaries and advanced degrees tend to live longer. Is there, however, an appreciable difference in the lifespans of those in closely related professions? A study performed in the 1960s on different scientific specialties within the Navy did show differences of as much as 15 years, with engineers averaging fourth highest after archaeology, astronomy, and anthropology. Likely, these differences are largely due to working conditions and job stress, as well as socioeconomic status. The study also included field scientists outside naval forces, and those working within universities and showed similar life expectancies for each profession regardless of the sector of employment.
Modern studies with such narrow breakdowns are fewer and farther between, as the life expectancy gap becomes wider based purely on socioeconomic status. A 2007 study on the growing gap in life expectancy by income shows that due to entitlement programs that deliver disproportionately larger lifetime benefits to higher-income people, income gaps continue to affect access to medical care into old age.
In other words, those with poor early life care and conditions, unless they can enter into a high-salaried career, will continue to receive poorer care and benefits across a lifetime, impacting expectations of longevity. Most modern studies that crop up around the question of life expectancy by a demographic focus on factors related to race and socioeconomic status, which can be extrapolated to broad employment categories.
Focusing more on factors just related to job stress, research in applied psychology has shown that job demands to affect employee health outcomes in both the short- and long-term. A 2020 study found that job control can moderate the relationship between job demands and physical and mental health — jobs with a higher degree of employee job control result in better health outcomes. This correlates well to data obtained in earlier studies suggesting that white-collar jobs contribute better health outcomes than blue-collar jobs, and also suggests that rather than higher stress, more autonomy and job responsibilities can overall suggest a higher life expectancy.
A study, appearing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, even suggests that occupational factors can be a better suggestion of longevity than other lifestyle factors. Data collected in the study shows that even though medical students were the heaviest smokers in college, they were the least likely to die young. Meanwhile, students of art or law were far more likely to die young than those in technical professions, regardless of other lifestyle factors. Again though, the other corollaries to technical professions are better early life care, healthier lifestyles, and better employment prospects.
Of course, any demographic breakdown represents broad categories of people that also share a number of other compounding factors that may well be the real deciding factors in longevity. These different demographic categories may also come with differences in access to health care, exposure to pollution, nutrition and behaviors such as smoking, as well as the factors tied to work — job security, hours, and stresses and demands of the workplace.
When it comes to career demographics, it is important to note that these may be tied not just to the conditions of the job itself, but to the people who have access to or tend to make up that section of the workforce. However, there are aspects of the profession — job control, higher pay and benefits — that contribute to longevity.
The simple answer is yes, engineers tend to have longer lives than those in many other professions, but there is always a lot more happening behind the scenes when it comes to statistics.