How pressures of the job age CEOs


High-level job demands, high-stakes decision-making and long hours are all hallmarks of a CEO’s lifestyle. New research reveals the physical toll of these pressures on CEOs. 

The team of researchers collected data from 1,605 CEOs of publicly listed companies, including dates of birth and dates of death. They also used machine-learning techniques to evaluate the signs of visible aging in pictures of CEOs. This methodology allowed them to shed light on the serious health ramifications of high-pressure roles.

By merging their data on the birth and death dates of CEOs with the passage of anti-takeover laws, they found that protections increased longevity and life expectancy. Anti-takeover laws could extend the lifespan of the typical CEO by two years, and those who are in those positions with those protections tend to stay in their roles for longer. They also found that CEOs who serve under strict corporate governance have higher mortality rates, with a 4 to 5 percent decrease in mortality when exposed to more lenient governance for just one year.

Through collecting over 3,000 images of 2006 Fortune 500 CEOs throughout different points in their tenures, the researchers analyzed apparent signs of aging. They also then merged this data with different points of industry-level financial stressors. Before the Great Recession, industry leaders didn’t differ much in terms of apparent age. Afterward, however, those who experienced higher levels of industry-specific distress looked around a year older than those who experienced less distress. 

Co-author of the paper Marius Guenzel told Knowledge@Wharton, “The COVID situation underlined the importance of studying work-related stress. All of us can think of a time when we were very stressed out. I don’t think that was a time when we performed at our best. Stress not only has long-term effects, but it also affects your immediate productivity”.

Thus, Mr. Guenzel recommends that firms be mindful of the effects of stress on their employees and design incentives that take this data into account.

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