Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: health, heart, life, life expectancy, Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, society
In the 1950s, two researchers named Bruhn and Wolf went to the village of Roseto in eastern Pennsylvania near the New York border, to attempt to find out why the townspeople there were outliving – by a wide margin – people everywhere else in the country. Their assumption going in had been that there were physical reasons for the longevity, like diet and health. What they found was evidence that the reason for exceptional health was social.
Rosetto PA was settled in the 1880s by stone workers from the Italian town Rosetto Valfortore. The settlers brought the name of their southern mountain town with them and apparently they brought a lot more than just the name. When Bruhn and Wolf visited the town they found a very tightly knit, socially cohesive community. They were publicly and privately social, they lived in extended families, they worshipped together, they formed multiple social organizations, and the classes mixed and were mutually supportive. The researchers determined all this social cohesion contributed to the exceptional health of the townspeople.
In the context of the 1950s these levels of goodwill makes sense. Americans were putting the war behind them and building their families and communities. Sixty years on and there are other factors at work which lead to less cohesive and supportive lifestyles; and, if this research is correct less healthy lives.
From Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell:
“In Roseto, virtually no one under fifty-five had died of a heart attack or showed any signs of heart disease. For men over sixty-five, the death rate from heart disease in Roseto was roughly half that of the United States as a whole. The death rate from all causes in Roseto, in fact, was 30 to 35 percent lower than expected.” (P7)
“There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t even have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”
“As Bruhn and Wolf walked around the town, they figured out why. They looked at how the Rosetans visited one another, stopping to chat in Italian on the street, say, or cooking for one another in their backyards. They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town’s social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in a town of just under two thousand people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the community, which discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures.”
Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell
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