Life and Death

Kevin Lewis

December 18, 2009

Athletes, Doctors, and Lawyers with First Names Beginning with "D" Die Sooner

Ernest Abel & Michael Kruger
Death Studies, January 2010, Pages 71-81

For many people, names have symbolic power that extends to their timing of death. This study examined the relationship between the symbolic significance of the first letters in the names of professional athletes (baseball, football, hockey, and basketball) and their longevity. A similar analysis was performed for doctors (radiologists, dermatologists, obstetricians/gynecologists) and lawyers for comparison purposes. There was a progressive decrease in longevity associated with names beginning with A to D when all athletes were combined. In each sport, athletes whose first names began with the letter D lived fewer years than those whose names collectively began with E to Z. Doctors and lawyers whose first names began with D also died earlier than those whose names began with E to Z but differences were not statistically significant. A Cox-regression survival analysis for athletes comparing those with names beginning with A, B, C and D vs. E to Z indicated that only those whose names began with D (median survival = 68.1 years) differed significantly from those with E to Z names (median survival = 69.9 years).


The Australian Firearms Buyback and Its Effect on Gun Deaths

Wang-Sheng Lee & Sandy Suardi
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming

The 1996-1997 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) in Australia introduced strict gun laws, primarily as a reaction to the mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in 1996, where 35 people were killed. Despite the fact that several researchers using the same data have examined the impact of the NFA on firearm deaths, a consensus does not appear to have been reached. In this paper, we reanalyze the same data on firearm deaths used in previous research, using tests for unknown structural breaks as a means to identifying impacts of the NFA. The results of these tests suggest that the NFA did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates.


Distributions of observed death tolls govern sensitivity to human fatalities

Christopher Olivola & Namika Sagara
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

How we react to humanitarian crises, epidemics, and other tragic events involving the loss of human lives depends largely on the extent to which we are moved by the size of their associated death tolls. Many studies have demonstrated that people generally exhibit a diminishing sensitivity to the number of human fatalities and, equivalently, a preference for risky (vs. sure) alternatives in decisions under risk involving human losses. However, the reason for this tendency remains unknown. Here we show that the distributions of event-related death tolls that people observe govern their evaluations of, and risk preferences concerning, human fatalities. In particular, we show that our diminishing sensitivity to human fatalities follows from the fact that these death tolls are approximately power-law distributed. We further show that, by manipulating the distribution of mortality-related events that people observe, we can alter their risk preferences in decisions involving fatalities. Finally, we show that the tendency to be risk-seeking in mortality-related decisions is lower in countries in which high-mortality events are more frequently observed. Our results support a model of magnitude evaluation based on memory sampling and relative judgment. This model departs from the utility-based approaches typically encountered in psychology and economics in that it does not rely on stable, underlying value representations to explain valuation and choice, or on choice behavior to derive value functions. Instead, preferences concerning human fatalities emerge spontaneously from the distributions of sampled events and the relative nature of the evaluation process.


Learning by Doing, Knowledge Spillovers, and Technological and Organizational Change in High-Altitude Mountaineering

John Boyce & Diane Bischak
Journal of Sports Economics, forthcoming

We present an analysis of microlevel data from mountaineering on the 14 peaks over 8,000 m in height during the period 1895-1998. Prior to 1950, no expedition was successful in making an ascent and almost half of expeditions experienced a death, frostbite, or altitude sickness. By the 1990s, however, over half of the expeditions would successfully make an ascent and only about one in seven would experience an adverse outcome. Our objective is to distinguish between the effects of learning by doing and knowledge spillovers versus the effects of changes in technology or economic organization in explaining these results. As we can identify each climber by name and nationality, as well as each expedition team's methods and outcomes, we are able to disentangle the effects of learning at the individual, national, and international levels from effects due to improvements in climbing technology or changes in organizational methods and objectives. We find evidence that both individual learning by doing and learning through knowledge spillovers have contributed to the observed increase in ascent rates and to the decrease in death, frostbite, and altitude sickness rates.


Does Devoutness Delay Death? Psychological Investment in Religion and Its Association With Longevity in the Terman Sample

Michael McCullough, Howard Friedman, Craig Enders & Leslie Martin
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, November 2009, Pages 866-882

Religious people tend to live slightly longer lives (M. E. McCullough, W. T. Hoyt, D. B. Larson, H. G. Koenig, & C. E. Thoresen, 2000). On the basis of the principle of social investment (J. Lodi-Smith & B. W. Roberts, 2007), the authors sought to clarify this phenomenon with a study of religion and longevity that (a) incorporated measures of psychological religious commitment; (b) considered religious change over the life course; and (c) examined 19 measures of personality traits, social ties, health behaviors, and mental and physical health that might help to explain the religion-longevity association. Discrete-time survival growth mixture models revealed that women (but not men) with the lowest degrees of religiousness through adulthood had shorter lives than did women who were more religious. Survival differences were largely attributable to cross-sectional and prospective between-class differences in personality traits, social ties, health behaviors, and mental and physical health.


Testing the "Proximate Casualties Hypothesis": Local Troop Loss, Attention to News, and Support for Military Intervention

Andrew Hayes & Teresa Myers
Mass Communication and Society, October 2009, Pages 379-402

In academic and policy circles, it is believed that the American public is highly casualties-averse when sending its troops into war, and that as casualties mount the public will increasingly call for withdrawal of troops from foreign military interventions. This study tests a variant of this "casualties hypothesis" by examining whether the public conceptualizes the human costs of war in local as well as national terms. Using a massive quantity of public opinion data combined with information on deaths to U.S. soldiers in the Iraq war theater between 2003 and 2006, we show that recent deaths to soldiers from a person's home state prompt an increase in the likelihood of the person supporting withdrawal of troops, independent of cumulative national casualties and recent casualties to soldiers from elsewhere in the country. These results are explained in terms of journalism norms that make recent, local casualties salient to consumers of news, who then use this salient information when their opinions about the progress of a war are probed.

Suicide attempt by jumping: A study of gonadal axis hormones in male suicide attempters versus men who fell by accident

Manolis Markianos, John Tripodianakis, Christos Istikoglou, Olga Rouvali, Markos Christopoulos, Pavlos Papageorgopoulos & Andreas Seretis
Psychiatry Research, 30 November 2009, Pages 82-85

Low plasma total testosterone (T) levels may influence the sense of well-being and produce depressive symptomatology, increasing the risk of suicide. In a previous study, we reported reduced serum T levels in male psychiatric patients after a suicide attempt. The reduction was more pronounced in subjects who used violent attempt methods, and we discussed the possible influence of stress of hospitalization, serious medical condition and treatment. In order to minimize the influence of such factors, we compared in this study the levels of plasma sex hormones of 15 psychiatric patients (10 suffering from schizophrenia and 5 from depression) who had attempted suicide by jumping with those of a group of 18 male subjects who were hospitalized after accidentally falling from a high height. Compared with a healthy control group of 40 males, both accident and attempt groups had lower T levels. The attempt group showed a trend toward lower T levels compared with levels in the accident group. In the accident group, luteinizing hormone (LH) levels were elevated compared with levels in healthy controls, indicating a normal function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. This was not the case for the attempt group, where low T levels were not accompanied by increases in LH. Cortisol and prolactin were similarly elevated in both patient groups, but were not related to the low T levels. The results indicate that male psychiatric patients who attempt suicide by violent methods may have low total plasma T levels, possibly due to a dysfunction of the HPG axis at the hypothalamic-pituitary level. Monitoring HPG axis function in future studies could prove to be a predictor of suicide at least for male psychiatric attempters, and could lead to preventive strategies.


Spiritual Well-Being and Suicidal Ideation Among College Students

Lindsay Taliaferro, Barbara Rienzo, Morgan Pigg, David Miller & Virginia Dodd
Journal of American College Health, July-August 2009, Pages 83-90

Objective: This study explored whether specific dimensions of spiritual well-being (religious well-being and existential well-being) relate to reduced suicidal ideation, and whether associations persisted after controlling for religiosity and psychosocial variables associated with suicide.

Participants: Participants were 457 college students who completed measures that assessed spiritual well-being, religiosity, hopelessness, depression, social support, and suicidal ideation.

Methods: The authors used linear regression modeling to assess religious and spiritual correlates of suicidal ideation.

Results: After controlling for demographic variables and psychosocial factors, neither involvement in organized religion nor religious well-being significantly contributed to suicidal ideation. However, even after controlling for significant correlates, existential well-being remained a significant predictor of suicidal ideation.

Conclusions: This investigation highlighted existential well-being as an important factor associated with lower levels of suicidal ideation among college students. Findings from this study focusing on the association between spiritual well-being and suicidality may prove especially beneficial to suicide prevention efforts.


The Longevity Gap Between Black and White Men in the United States at the Beginning and End of the 20th Century

Frank Sloan, Padmaja Ayyagari, Martin Salm & Daniel Grossman
American Journal of Public Health, forthcoming

Objectives: We sought to assess whether the disparity in mortality rates between Black and White men decreased from the beginning to the end of the 20th century.

Methods: We used Cox proportional hazard models for mortality to estimate differences in longevity between Black and White Civil War veterans from 1900 to 1914 (using data from a pension program) and a later cohort of male participants (using data from the 1992 to 2006 Health and Retirement Study). In sensitivity analysis, we compared relative survival of veterans for alternative baseline years through 1914.

Results: In our survival analysis, the Black-White male difference in mortality, both unadjusted and adjusted for other influences, did not decrease from the beginning to the end of the 20th century. A 17% difference in Black-White mortality remained for the later cohort even after we controlled for other influences. Although we could control for fewer other influences on longevity, the Black-White differences in mortality for the earlier cohort was 18%.

Conclusions: In spite of overall improvements in longevity, a major difference in Black-White male mortality persists.


Earthquake Propensity and the Politics of Mortality Prevention

Philip Keefer, Eric Neumayer & Thomas Pluemper
World Bank Working Paper, November 2009

Governments can significantly reduce earthquake mortality by implementing and enforcing quake-proof construction regulation. We examine why many governments do not. Contrary to intuition, controlling for the strength and location of actual earthquakes, mortality is lower in countries with higher earthquake propensity, where the payoffs to mortality prevention are higher. Importantly, however, the government response to earthquake propensity depends on country income and the political incentives of governments to provide public goods to citizens. The opportunity costs of earthquake mortality prevention are higher in poorer countries; rich countries invest more in mortality prevention than poor countries in response to a higher earthquake propensity. Similarly, governments that have fewer incentives to provide public goods, such as younger democracies, autocracies with less institutionalized ruling parties and countries with corrupt regimes, respond less to an elevated quake propensity. They therefore have higher mortality at any level of quake propensity compared to older democracies, autocracies with highly institutionalized parties and non-corrupt regimes, respectively. We find robust evidence for these predictions in our analysis of earthquake mortality over the period 1960 to 2005.

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