Objectives

To compare the mortality experience of 112 justices of the US Supreme Court with that expected in the general population. To identify variables associated with mortality within this cohort.

Background

Supreme Court justices are a select occupational cohort. High socio-economic status, advanced education, lifetime appointment, and the healthy worker effect suggest lower mortality. Sedentary work, stress, and a tendency to work beyond typical retirement age may attenuate this.

Methods

Standardized mortality ratios compare the observed mortality rates of justices with those expected in age- and sex-matched contemporary general populations. Poisson regression analyzes variables associated with mortality within the cohort.

Results

From 1789 to 2013, 112 justices (108 male) contributed 2,355 person-years of exposure. Mean age (standard deviation) at appointment was 53.1 years (6.7); at retirement 69.7 years (9.9); at death (n = 100) 74.4 years (10.3); and at end of the study for those alive (n = 12) 72.1 years (11.8). Standardized mortality ratios (95% ci) were: overall 0.87 (0.70-1.05); prior to 1950 0.92 (0.61-1.33); and from 1950 to 2013 0.66 (0.42-0.99). Variables in the final Poisson model and their associated mortality rate ratios (95% ci) were: age 1.06 (1.03-1.09); calendar year 0.99 (0.99-1.00); active status 0.41 (0.25-0.68); career length 1.04 (1.01-1.07); and chief justice 1.08 (0.59-1.84).

Conclusions

Supreme Court mortality was lower than that of the general population in the period from 1950 to the present, but was on par prior to 1950. Increasing age and career length were associated with greater mortality, while active status and later calendar year with lower. These results may add to a body of knowledge that may help to develop or refine models of mortality risk in increasingly aged working populations.

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