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  • CORRESPONDENCE

Presidents of Royal Society live long lives

The records of the UK Royal Society indicate that its presidents are generally long-lived — possibly more so than their high-ranking contemporaries in British society.

We used Royal Society records to compare the lifespans of the society’s 59 deceased presidents with those of senior statesmen and Royal Society fellows from 1622 to 2018. Many of the presidents died at a mean age of 77 (s.d. 11), thereby outliving 49 deceased British prime ministers (74 ± 12 years) and 7,665 Royal Society fellows (72 ± 14 years).

Averaged over 50-year periods, Royal Society presidents are living as long now as they did 100–150 years ago: 82 ± 12 years, compared with 83±8 today, in contrast to the general population’s linear rise in life expectancy from about 1920 until 2010 (see go.nature.com/31bknh).

The society did not admit its first female fellows until 1945. Since then, 198 women have been elected, of whom 59 have died — at a mean age of 83 ± 12 years. These figures are comparable to those for the society’s presidents (all men) over the same period. Given that women tend to live longer than men, the similar average lifespan of these presidents could be noteworthy.

Bearing in mind the small sample sizes, these findings are speculative. The enduring correlation between longevity and socio-economic class might be a contributing factor.

Nature 599, 372 (2021)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-03420-7

Competing Interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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