Jobs That Kill: What is the deadliest profession?

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A child born today in a first world country can expect to live 80 to 90 years. But could your choice of profession play a role in increasing — or dramatically decreasing — your lifespan?

Some jobs can cut decades off your life expectancy — including some seemingly benign, everyday professions. Here's a look at jobs that can kill you.

Top image via Shutterstock.

Jobs that actually put a crosshairs between your eyes

On-the-job fatalities, regardless of the job, occur in the U.S. at a rate of 3.5 per 100,000. Why half a person has to die, I'll never know. The number goes up for some jobs that you would expect to have a higher death rate due to long hours and inherent danger — like law enforcement, construction work, and long-haul truck driving. Each of those has a five-fold increase in deaths per year, compared to the average population.


Logging and fishing, however, are another story. Looking forward to a life outdoors? Expect a thirty-fold increase in deaths per year. 90 loggers per 100,000 die each year. And the figure is 118 per 100,000, for those working in the fishing industry. If you worked four to five years with in either of these industries, there is a very good statistical chance that at least one of your co-workers would die in a workplace accident, with several others being disabled.

In terms of absolute number of deaths per year, long-haul truck driving actually has the highest number because of the sheer number of people employed in the profession. This profession accounts for nearly a quarter of all workplace deaths in the U.S., with 1,141 dying in 2010.

What can science tell us about workplace deaths?

Scientists haven't done too much research on the deadliness of different career paths — but there is a 1969 retrospective study, Average age at death of scientists in various specialties. This was one of the first in-depth looks at a subset from a post-industrial workforce, with the outcome showing that scientists working in academia lived five to ten years longer than their contemporaries working in industrial situations. Archaeologists and astronomers fared the best, living ten years longer than the average human lifespan at the time.


One of the most astounding findings to come out of this study was the decrease in lifespan witnessed in individuals who worked with radiation or dangerous chemicals routinely in their career. A decrease of six years was observed, with this finding going a long way to change radiation (and chemical) safety standards in the coming decades.


The Rich and the Dead
Professional Wrestlers & NFL Players make for a small data set, however, their deaths are rather public. Our sister site, Deadspin, does a tongue-cheek update called "Dead Wrestler of the Week" — a look back at the often sad, premature deaths of celebrity wrestlers from our youth.


The population of professional wrestlers is not that large, but another segment of sports is a bit larger –- professional football players. Data has been collected consistently by the NFL Players Association and was made public during to the recent labor dispute, between 53 to 59, depending on position, with linemen having the lowest life expectancy.

This decrease in life expectancy was not observed in Olympic athletes, however — a 1993 retrospective study showed them to live four to five years longer than the average person. The average football player, meanwhile, gives up twenty years of his lifespan in pursuit of his profession.


These occupations pose an interesting quandary –- their participants revel in high income, extremely desirable jobs with a short career. At the same time, these professions confront workers with injuries due to constant, high impact physical contact, along with obesity (most linemen weigh 300 to 350 lb), concussions (which can lead to a lifetime of disorientation and depression) and physical ailments that lend often themselves to a sedentary lifestyle in years of retirement that follow. Retirement, for many, is not as simple and easy as it sounds, with the average NFL player playing for 3.5 years, and a median salary, while still close to several hundred thousand dollars, is not substantial enough to live off for the duration of a lifetime. This often leads retirees to pursue jobs in unskilled/mildly-skilled labor situations if their education doesn't provide for a secondary career to pursue.


Unskilled Laborers vs. Professionals

Finances are playing less of a role in longevity. The gap between the life expectancy of the least educated laborers and more educated professionals has decreased to just seven years (73 years vs. 80 years for men, 78 vs. 85 for women). This seven-year gap is quite ironic when you take into account that a person spends 10-12 years going to college and earning a masters or doctorate degree. The increased income that comes with a more skilled (and thus higher paying) occupation still plays a role, although a diminished one — with the seven year extension probably coming due to access to better health care, food options, and opportunities for relaxation.


Stay away from any profession featured in Deadliest fill in the blank

If your job is part of any show entitled, Deadliest fillintheblank , it would behoove you to change career paths. You don't see Discovery Channel airing a show called Deadliest Spreadsheet or Deadliest Recursive Function — but if they ever did, I'd watch. In the meantime, I think the closest we will get is Workaholics. But if you do have a death wish and aren't already a professional wrestler or football player, feel free to become a logger, an itinerant fisherman, or a truck driver.


Images from Fine Art America/Garin Baker (top image), Hubpages, and the AP. Sources linked within in the article.