Since today Amy Winehouse died, she joined the 27 club. The Club 27 is based around the statement that the death at the age of 27 for famous musicians is more common than in any other group of people. Is there any other similar group of people that their age of death has been compared to and showed this as a relevant fact? Is there any explanation to this? (Let's say, something in the lines of: "The abuse of drugs, or reckless living style, is more common among musicians than among actors")
It's easy to be seen that this is a prime example of confirmation bias:
Take a list of famous musicians with birth and death dates.
I've used this one which lists famous composers, but any other better list can be used if found.
Calculate the age at death (or lifespan)
Plot on a graph.
Age on the x-axis, number of occurrences on the y-axis.
Does the age 27 look particularly significant? No.
On the other hand we could have a "club 67"... ;-)
I think the biggest thing going on here is confirmation bias as opposed to any other phenomenon. There are thousands and thousands of musicians, and the "27 Club" has only 45 members (as defined by wikipedia, and going back to 1908). I think this particular phenomenon also has some hallmarks of the Birthday Paradox in that people will always have a specific age when they die. Naturally, some will have the same age. (This is a weak analogy, I am thinking of a better one, and am open to suggestions.)
I think what really drives people to the confirmation bias inherent in this is that 27 is a rather young age for anyone to die. To have musicians be very famous by that age, makes them stand out even more.
As for other people dying at 27, I think that you can list many other groups that have a much higher chance of dying. For instance, in the commercial sector, being a fisherman is the deadliest demographic as far as profession goes.
according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, in 2006 it became in fact the deadliest job in the country with a fatality rate of 141.7. Fishers didn’t have the highest number of fatalities over all (51 reported fatalities in 2006) but due to the relatively small amount employed, it had the highest rate.
In terms of overall numbers, drivers/sales workers suffered by far the most on-the-job fatalities – 940 in 2006. The strong majority of these fatalities occurred among heavy truck drivers. Because of the large labor force of drivers, the fatality rate (27.2) was lower than for fishers.
Although, soldiers aren't mentioned. And of course, these are deaths due to accidents. Suicides, drug overdoses, and the like attributed to the "27 Club" are tracked under different methods (such as the CDC). In a cursory look at that data, it doesn't seem like there is anything particularly different about musicians.
As Jader mentions in the comments, the average death rate for people in the 25-34 age group is about 1.7%. Now look at the "27 Club" that is listed on Wikipedia. That's 45 of them in over 100 years! According to the labor bureau, there are currently 186,000 PROFESSIONAL musicians in the US for 2008, with a 10 year delta growth of just over 14,000. If anything, the 27 club seems to be UNDER represented on the wiki page if it can only find 45 in 100 years!
Also, consider that the http://www.the-eggman.com/writings/death_stats.html link gives deaths for the 25-34 age category under accidents at a higher 12% rate! I think it could be argued that most of those deaths also involved some level of "accident" such as overdose, suicide, etc. I refer you to the answer by Sklivvz.
Lenon, Elvis, Zappa, Jackson - none of them died at an age of 27. And Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Paganini, Liszt, Caruso, ...
'Musician' is a wide field, but what's about rock stars? Caruso wasn't a rock star? Well - Amy Winehouse isn't exactly Rock, is she? It's Soul. Is Aretha Franklin still alive? Tina Turner? James Brown was or is older than 27. Why are so damned much musicians older than 27 still alive?
Okay, back to the standards: Here are some diagrams, showing 100 dead, most well known rock musicians (without explaining, how 'well known' was measured).
But I link it, because of the skeptic questions raised in the text and in the comments:
- does dying early make you more famous?
- is there a high risk of drug usage in the early adult phase, which some musicians survive (Cliff Richard, Joe Cocker, ...), and after a critical age, not exactly the age of 27, but around that, their chances of getting old rise, because they learned how to handle the risk?
- is the scope of musicians (rock, soul) adapted to dying stars with 27, after an initial group of musicians in the 70ies (Jones, Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin)
- the age of rock music
- 94% did not die at the age of 27
I think the other thing going on here is that 27 may be a common age by which an entertainer is widely known (if they are ever going to be widely known.) Let's face it, if you're an entertainer making a mark, you're probabably not too young (very few 5 year old rock and roll singers) and not too old (if you're 40 and a musician, you usually hit your peak earlier, or no one has heard of you.)
The idea that there is something mystical about musicians dying at 27 is like finding something mystical in the average age of first marriage for women being 26. Most women aren't getting married for the first time at 7 or 57.