We Calculated the Life Expectancy of Don Draper
He smokes, he drinks, he beds strange women. He gets little to no exercise and doesn’t eat particularly well. He’s tense and brooding and under all kinds of stress. He won’t listen to his doctor and is definitely at risk of a heart attack given his high blood pressure. Oh, and he smokes and drinks. A lot.
But enough about me. Don Draper, the Mad Men stud we’re about to say goodbye to, is quite the consumer. Watching him live in a blur of cigarettes, whiskey, and reckless sex got us thinking—just how long would he be able to stay alive? So we ran the numbers, based on the series’ very first episode—which pretty much gives a 24-hour overviews of his life. He’s going to be in pretty rough shape.
Draper Out of the Gate Hard
Don sits at a lounge table with an empty drink and three cigarette butts in his ashtray. He lights up another and orders a second Old Fashioned.
Tally: 2 Drinks, 4 Cigarettes
An average weeknight?
Don heads to his mistress’ apartment for a night of sex and drinking. She pours him about four fingers of booze—we’ll count that as two drinks—and Don lights up in the A.M. for a morning-after smoke.
Tally: 4 drinks, 5 cigarettes, 1 mistress.
The office has a bar and zero no-smoking signs
Don continues to treat himself at the office the next day, starting bright and early in the morning. He has one stiff cocktail before his meetings, a Bloody Mary during a conference with a client, and a celebratory glass (along with a fat cigar) after a successful pitch to a tobacco company. We also see him have three more cigarettes during the day. To his credit, he does perform a whopping two or three stretches with some elastic exercise-band thing.
Tally: 7 drinks, 8 cigarettes, 1 cigar, 1 mistress.
After finishing at the office, Don ends his work day with a flirty meeting to smooth things over with a female client. Cig and a whiskey.
Tally: 8 drinks, 9 cigarettes, 1 cigar, 1 mistress—and heading towards another.
Smoking on the train
Don lights up one more Lucky Strike on his train ride home to, you know, his wife.
Final 24-hour tally: 8 drinks, 10 cigarettes, 1 cigar, 1 mistress, 1 future mistress.
And who knows what he was doing for the other 23 hours of the day we weren’t watching him.
So how many years does all this hack off?
Thanks to the CDC, we now know—and kind of knew during Don’s time, apparently—that life expectancy for smokers is 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers. And according to a New York Times health guide, alcoholism also reduces life expectancy by about 10 to 12 years.
In 1960 (the year of Mad Men’s first episode) the life expectancy for a white male was about 67 years old. If we take the above numbers and simply hack off 10 years from Don’s life for each his smoking and alcohol abuse, he makes it to the ripe old age of 47.
A more accurate number
That’s the simple answer. But since half the population smoked in the 60s, we’re counting his smoking twice, since it’s already factored into the average life expectancy. If we know that smoking takes off 10 years and half the population smoked in 1960, we can easily calculate a smoker’s average lifespan to 62 years.
If we do the same for his chronic alcohol abuse, we get him to the ripe old age of 57 before he croaks (a handy-dandy life expectancy calculator from Wharton School of Business reaffirms this 10-year differential when you add 10 cigarettes and more than four drinks per day). Throw in the reckless sex, minimal exercise, extreme stress, and lack of sleep (and apparent drunk driving and eventual dabbling with drugs), and it’s safe to say Don really can’t hope for much more than 53 years on this planet.
As Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner once told Stephen Colbert, Don was living in an era when men “were supposed to smoke as much, drink as much, and get laid as much as possible.” It’s fair to assume that Don is no model of abstinence during gaps in his coverage on the show and that his consumption is even higher than the numbers used here. But we do have a number: 53. The final season of Mad Men takes place in 1969, when Don is supposed to be 43. Theoretically, then, he’d be dead by 1980.
Today’s life expectancy in the United States is almost 79 years. But if you’re living like the Don, don’t expect to hit 70.