Job for life ? Bishop of Rome ?

February 26, 2013

The job of Bishop of Rome – i.e. the Pope – is considered to be a life-long commitment. I mean, it usually was. There have been 266 popes since 32 A.D. (according to…): almost all popes have served until their death. But that does not mean that they were in the job for long… One can easily extract the data from the website,

> L2=scan("",what="character")
Read 4485 items
> index=which(L2=="</td><td>Reigned")
> X=L2[index+1]
> Y=strsplit(X,split="-")

But one should work a little bit because sometimes, there are inconsistencies, e.g. 911-913 and then 913-14, so we need some more lines. Further, we can extract from this file the years popes started to reign, the year it ended, and the length, using those functions

> diffyears=function(x){
+ s=NA
+ if(sum(substr(x,1,1)=="c")>0){x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"]=substr(x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"],3,nchar(x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"]))}
+ if(length(x)==1){s=1}
+ if(length(x)==2){s=diff(as.numeric(x))}
+ return(s)}
> whichyearsbeg=function(x){
+ s=NA
+ if(sum(substr(x,1,1)=="c")>0){x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"]=substr(x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"],3,nchar(x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"]))}
+ if(length(x)==1){s=as.numeric(x)}
+ if(length(x)==2){s=as.numeric(x)[1]}
+ return(s)}
> whichyearsend=function(x){
+ s=NA
+ if(sum(substr(x,1,1)=="c")>0){x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"]=substr(x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"],3,nchar(x[substr(x,1,1)=="c"]))}
+ if(length(x)==1){s=as.numeric(x)}
+ if(length(x)==2){s=as.numeric(x)[2]}
+ return(s)}

On our file, we have

> Years=unlist(lapply(Y,whichyearsbeg))
> YearsB=c(Years[1:91],752,Years[92:length(Years)])
> YearsB[187]=1276
> Years=unlist(lapply(Y,whichyearsend))
> YearsE=c(Years[1:91],752,Years[92:length(Years)])
> YearsE[187]=1276
> YearsE[266]=2013
> YearsE[122]=914 
> W=unlist(lapply(Y,diffyears))
> W=c(W[1:91],1,W[92:length(W)])
> W[W==-899]=1
> which(
[1] 187 266
> W[187]=1
> W[266]=2013-2005

If we plot it, we have the following graph,

> plot(YearsB,W,type="h")

and if we look at the average length, we have the following graph,

> n=200
> YEARS = seq(0,2000,length=n)
> Z=rep(NA,n)
> for(i in 2:(n-1)){
+ index=which((YearsB>YEARS[i]-50)&(YearsE<YEARS[i]+50))
+ Z[i] = mean(W[index])}
> plot(YEARS,Z,type="l",ylim=c(0,30))
> n=50
> YEARS = seq(0,2000,length=n)
> Z=rep(NA,n)
> for(i in 2:(n-1)){
+ index=which((YearsB>YEARS[i]-50)&(YearsE<YEARS[i]+50))
+ Z[i] = mean(W[index])}
> lines(YEARS,Z,type="l",col="grey")

which does not reflect mortality improvements that have been observed over two millenniums. It might related to the fact that the average age at time of election has  increased over time (for instance, Benedict XVI was elected at 78 – one of the oldest to be elected). Actually, serving a bit more than 7 years is almost the median,

> mean(W>=7.5)
[1] 0.424812

(42% of the Popes did stay at least 7 years in charge) or we can look at the histogram,

> hist(W,breaks=0:35)

Unfortunately, I could not find more detailed database (including the years of birth for instance) to start a life-table of Popes.


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Posted in: Statistics, Demography, Statistics

8 Responses to “ Job for life ? Bishop of Rome ? ”

  1. Antonio on 15/03/2013 at 7:44 AM

    Bonjour Arthur,
    I have used the database cited in my post where I carry out an elemental analysis of election ages.

  2. charles dimaggio on 04/03/2013 at 5:37 PM

    Who knew so many folks were interested in how long Popes live. Thank you for this, Arthur, and for your consistently enjoyable blog. And here is my entry, written to teach my students a little about web scraping, and a little about survival analysis:



  3. Matt on 27/02/2013 at 6:46 PM
  4. Carlos Ortega on 27/02/2013 at 10:03 AM

    Thanks for your post and analysis!.
    You can find something equivalent to what Guardian offers in the Wikipedia:

    Carlos Ortega.

  5. Markus on 27/02/2013 at 2:52 AM

    Hi Arthur,

    I wonder how your analysis of the popes compares to other jobs.

    Anyhow, other seem to have carried out some research on longevity of popes already:
    Maria Patrizia Carrieri1 and Diego Serraino,
    Longevity of popes and artists between the 13th and the 19th century,



    • Arthur Charpentier on 26/02/2013 at 3:04 PM

      Merci ! tu viens de me pourrir la soirée :-) Je vais regarder !

      • julien on 27/02/2013 at 4:33 AM


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