Douwe Osinga's Blog: Life expectancy of famous people

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Life expectancy of famous people

First of all, I must say I am a little disappointed in either the intelligence of my readers or my ability of explaining the abracadabra puzzle. Over 50% says it doesn't make a difference, even after my double explanation and a python program to back it up. Oh well.

My wife and I went to a concert a week or so ago and we noticed that of the three composers, two had died at a very young age and Mozart wasn't one of them. So we were thinking, do painters live longer than composers? Would be hard to say, if it weren't for the wikipedia. Determined to find out, I downloaded an XML dump and started hacking at it. I am not yet ready to answer this question, but I did produce an interesting graph, pasted below.

On the X axis the the year of birth, on the Y axis the life expectancy. This is based on people mentioned in the Wikipedia, a life expectancy for the famous, if you will. There are two interesting observations. One is the dramatic drop at the end - people born in the early twentieth century life to over 70 on average, but then it starts dropping and people born the last 20 years, don't life longer than, well, 20 years. Of course this is only due to the fact that we're only counting the people that actually died and nobody born in 1970 died at age 70 (yet). This site shows how the life expectancy of rock stars is only 36.9 vs 75.8 for normal people - I suppose my graph goes a long way explaining that too - how many rock stars were born 75.8 years ago? Not even the Stones.

The second interesting thing is the dramatic fall in life expectancy around the first century BC and AD. It is backward looking average that is plotted and we have less coverage in the early days, so it could all be a bit shifted, but it still is strange. The very high expectancy around -500 can be explained I think because of a lack of actual trustworthy records; oral tradition tends to multiply the years. But the unhealthy first century? Maybe a combination of young dying roman emperors and christian martyrs?


blackpaper said...

this shows to me you used a biased wikipedia.

to reach 70 500BC wasn't that hard for famous people and 500BC is already a very well documented time, so no reason to doubt those numbers.

the drop you have is purely given by the biased wikipedia data you have based on barbarian europe (germanic and similar)

if you were to factor in famous people of byzantium, china, north africa and middle east you'd get a very different graph.