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?
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.
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:
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.