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I have run across several references that mention that police officers and firefighters have a much shorter life expectancy than average. Is this claim true? Are there any reputable studies that have been done on this topic?

  • 2
    Are you talking about dying on the job, or having a shorter life expectancy outside of the job? – Andrew Grimm Mar 27 '12 at 1:40
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    @AndrewGrimm: Good point. I was actually thinking about outside (lifespan after retirement). But both would be interesting to know. – jrdioko Mar 27 '12 at 1:56
  • I think its about the chance dying on the job what your references talk about. Of course some damage received during the job can actually just kill you after you have retired or just cut your life expectancy down. Think about firefighters which came in contact with toxins etc. So this should actually be a no-brainer. Do people with a riskier job have a higher chance of dying earlier? Sure! – Martin Scharrer Mar 27 '12 at 6:44
  • I believe the irregular work hours also take a toll on these professions. Irregular sleep patterns will mess you up. – user11177 Jan 22 '13 at 18:06
  • It should be noted that the largest cause of death of active duty police officers is suicide. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 23 '18 at 21:20
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Yes.

This was an easy one! The claims were referenced. I randomly clicked on the second link which claimed:

Firefighters have shorter life expectancies than the average population and are three times more likely to die on the job, due to inherent risks, physical and mental stresses, and exposures to toxic and carcinogenic compounds released in smoke. (source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, University of Cincinatti.

Then I randomly clicked on the first link (although here is an easier-to-read PDF).

  • Cindy Clarke and Mark J. Zak, "Fatalities to Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighters, 1992-97", Compensation and Working Conditions, Summer 1999

In this paper, they look at the fatality rates for both firefighters and police officers.

They conclude that the relative risk of dying for both professions is around 3 times the size of the general population.

Although occupations such as timber cutter, fisher, seaman, and aircraft pilot have the highest fatality rates, they are found in relatively few parts of the United States. [...] Firefighters and law enforcement personnel, on the other hand, are found in every community in the United States. Although the dangers are quite different, both groups experience high fatality rates and risks.

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    I am actually surprised that jobs requiring driving in general are not more dangerous than pilot. – Chad Mar 27 '12 at 12:48
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    @Chad: With no evidence to support it, I suspect that non-passenger aircraft are more risky - such as air-force, crop-dusters, construction helicopters. – Oddthinking Mar 27 '12 at 14:12
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If you're thinking about "lifespan after retirement" rather than "dying before retirement", then it's not true.

Everything I see on firefighter health indicates there's no meaningful difference in mortality rates of public safety employees and other government workers. CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System) produced an experience study and little difference was found for police and firefighters vs. the other public employees:

Life Expectancy Table

Since the differences in mortality between miscellaneous members and safety members were not material, we are recommending to continue the use of the same post-retirement mortality tables for all members.

The Politifact fact-checking site used this study (and the lack of other evidence) to conclude a similar claim was false.

"Statistically," [Barber] said, "law-enforcement officers die 10 years earlier than the general population."

[...]

In the latest California study, police officers were actually expected to live a bit longer than other state employees. In Oregon, the combined life expectancy for police and fire was only slightly less than average.

We rate Barber's statement as False.

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    Oooh, exciting. Two different sources in two different answers giving conflicting results. Both sources seem reasonably powerful to me. I wonder if there is a meta-study or other mechanism to resolve the conflict? – Oddthinking Dec 15 '14 at 7:46
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    A plausible guess at the true answer is that despite the fact that the risk of death is tripled, the final risk is still very low, and therefore negligible in an actuarial sense. – March Ho Dec 15 '14 at 8:33
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    @Oddthinking The other source is about dying on the job and this source is about dying after retirement. – ChrisW Dec 15 '14 at 16:29
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    This answer only concerns retired firefighters and police officers. If their mortality while they still work is higher, their life expectancy at 20 or 30 would go down because of that. – MatsT Dec 16 '14 at 2:06

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