Skin in the Game CONTINUED
of the general population—something that didn’t happen with
the MLB cohort. These data demonstrate that for the 1930 season, professional baseball players had better mortality than
professional football players.
Jumping ahead 20 years, Table 3 shows age-related mortality experience for 1950 NFL players, a season in which 441 men
played for 13 teams. Table 4 displays similar age-related experience for 1950 MLB players, a season in which 530 men played
for 16 teams. The observation period for these tables is 60 years,
from Jan. 1, 1951, through Dec. 31, 2010.
A major difference between the 1930 and 1950 cohorts for
both sports is that the 1950 cohort still has living players at the
end of the observation period. There were 99 NFL players and
128 MLB players alive on Jan. 1, 2011. As a result, it won’t be
possible to determine for several years the average age at death
or the final mortality ratios at later ages.
Comparing the mortality experience of 1930 and 1950 NFL
players (Tables 1 and 3), it’s clear that NFL mortality has improved at a greater pace than general population mortality gains.
All the age brackets in 1950 (except for age 90 and older, which
has limited experience) show a marked improvement in the ac-tual-to-expected mortality ratio. In fact, NFL mortality is now
better than population mortality in the 70 and older age bracket.
When considering the mortality experience of 1930 and 1950
MLB players (Tables 2 and 4), we can see that MLB mortality
also has improved in most age brackets (and certainly overall) at
a faster pace than mortality improvements in the general population. But when you compare 1950 cohorts between the two
sports, it shows almost identical mortality at ages less than 70—
which wasn’t true in the 1930 experience. And it’s only at ages
70 and older that MLB mortality is shown to be better.
Between the 1930 and 1950 seasons, NFL mortality under
age 70 has improved to the level of MLB mortality. That hasn’t
happened in the senior years, however, and overall baseball mortality for those who played in the 1950 season remains better
than football mortality. It’s interesting to note that one of the
NFL Mortality Experience of
1,441 Men Who Played in 1980
60 and older
40 and older
42 CONTINGENCIES JUL | AUG. 12
128 surviving MLB players became a centenarian in 2011 and
remains alive as I write this in early 2012.
A Widening Gap
Reflecting on the results of these studies from the 1930 and
1950 seasons, it’s worth pondering the excellent longevity of
both groups but particularly of baseball players. Both groups
had many factors working for them:
■ ■ Active Employment—Any group of actively working individuals very likely will have better mortality than the population
as a whole (which includes the ill and disabled) precisely because they are healthy and able to work. Taking into account
the fact that the individuals studied are athletes, it would be
surprising if such a select group (who are engaged in frequent exercise and intensive training, and practice healthy
habits) were to have worse mortality than the general population. It’s almost a given that MLB and NFL players younger
than the age of 40 will have excellent actual mortality relative to the expected mortality that includes everyone.
■ ■ Tobacco Free—Athletes generally aren’t smokers. Smoking, as
actuaries know from their studies, is deadly and decreases life
expectancy for young male lifetime smokers by double digits.
■ ■ Higher Socioeconomic Status—While the salaries of MLB
and NFL players in 1930 and in 1950 were modest compared
with those of today’s players, our study cohorts as a whole
were upwardly mobile and economically better off than
low-income groups of the time. As a result, they would be expected to have better mortality than the general population.
■ ■ Health Consciousness—Even after retiring from professional
sports, these players had lived their prime years by taking
care of themselves and engaging in physical activity. It stands
to reason that they would have been in a position to take better care of themselves in retirement than those who hadn’t
experienced the same training and self-discipline.
For all of these reasons, the better mortality experienced by
both NFL and MLB athletes relative to the general population
60 and older
40 and older
MLB Mortality Experience of
916 Men Who Played in 1980