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How Politicians Age in Office From the Stress of Power

23:47Ciaran McCormick

Recently, I walked past Nick Clegg near St James Park station in London. It took me a good minute to realise it was him and by then he had been pulled away by another man in a suit. I scolded myself for losing the opportunity to get an ultimate geeky political selfie. However, I realised that the polished man I had seen on my TV screen looked very different in real life, as if the trappings of power and the spotlight had aged him. It may be that he just looked real, whereas we are used to seeing politicians in the same position as celebrities now, made up and polished to perfection.


It made me reflect on how stress and intense lives can age people prematurely. A study published in the British Medical Journal looked at how successful politicians aged compared to their unsuccessful counterparts after elections. They found through an analysis of 17 countries that elected politicians lost on average 3 years from their life expectancy. The immense pressure, staggering working hours and public scrutiny are all factors that probably contribute.

However, the findings of other researchers strike a different chord. They found that politicians live longer than most people in the general population. This is because they are part of the wealthy elite in society with privileged access to the best healthcare, diets and support. Both of these hypotheses are likely to be true, with politicians better off than most of the population but still suffering because of the positions they take compared to the people that also ran for that office.

After my encounter with Nick Clegg, I thought it would be interesting to look at politicians in a 'before' and 'after' pose. Here they are at the start of their time in the highest office compared to the end of their terms in power.

Bill Clinton across his Presidential term

Tony Blair in his 10 years as Prime Minister





David Cameron from becoming Leader of the Opposition to a second term Prime Minister


George W Bush across an eventful Presidency


Of course, none of this is especially rigorous or scientific. The sample size of political leaders is far too small to generate statistically significant findings. Pictures in wildly different conditions side by side can only say so much. However, the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is true not just for the soul but also the body.

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