High-ranking people less likely to fall ill
Scientists also found that such individuals recover quickest from injury and disease
Climbing the career ladder might actually be good for your health, say scientists who have found that high-ranking individuals recover quickest from injury and disease.
The study was conducted on baboons - but a recent study of government workers also yielded similar results.
The study involving 10,000 Whitehall civil servants found high-flyers were much less likely to suffer heart disease, bronchitis or depression than their more lowly counterparts.
It was known that social status can boost immune function and health in humans and animals but the mechanism is a mystery.
So Dr Beth Archie, a biologist at Notre Dame University in Indiana, and colleagues analysed 27 years of data on naturally occurring illness and injuries at a baboon sanctuary in Amboseli in Kenya and found high rank was linked with better healing.
They also discovered social status is a better predictor of wound healing than age.
“In humans and animals it has always been a big debate whether the stress of being on top is better or worse than the stress of being on the bottom.
Our results suggest that, while animals in both positions experience stress, several factors that go along with high rank might serve to protect males from the negative effects of stress,” the Daily Mail quoted Dr Archie as saying.
Zoologist Dr George Gilchrist, of the US government’s National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the research, noted: “The power of this study is in identifying the biological mechanisms that may confer health benefits to high-ranking members of society.
“We know humans have such benefits but it took meticulous long-term research on baboon society to tease out the specific mechanisms. The question remains of causation: is one a society leader because of stronger immune function or vice versa?”
In other words it remains unclear if social rank determines health or if health determines social rank.
The researchers investigated how differences in age, physical condition, stress, reproductive effort and testosterone levels contribute to status-related differences in immune functions.
Previous research has found high testosterone levels and intense reproductive efforts can suppress immune function and are highest among high-ranking males.
But Dr Archie and her colleagues discovered high-ranking males were less likely to become ill and recovered faster from injuries and illnesses than low-ranking ones.
They suggested chronic stress, old age and poor physical condition associated with low rank may suppress immune function.
Professor Carolyn Ehardt, program director for biological anthropology at the NSF, said the latest findings could have important social implications.
“This research begins to tease apart the trade-offs in both high and low status in primates, including ourselves, which may lead to understanding the effects of social status on death and disease - not inconsequential for society as a whole,” she said.
The finding was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.