The wealthiest Americans can expect to live at least a decade longer than the poorest -and that gap, with income inequality, is growing wider. New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows top earning Americans gained 2 to 3 years of life expectancy between 2001 and 2014, while those at the bottom gained little or nothing.
Previous research has shown health and wealth are intertwined, and they improve in tandem as you move up the income scale. But this year, wildly divergent incomes among Americans and the vanishing middle class have been central issues in a vitriolic race for White House.
Research last year showed mortality rates are rising among middle-aged whites, largely due to suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol. The latest paper rein forces the idea that inequality in the US has consequences beyond wealth and income.
Take a 40-year-old man in the top 1%. He can expect to live, on average, to 87. His counterpart in the bottom 1% would be expected to perish, on average, before his 73rd birthday . For women, who live longer on average, the gap was narrower, but still substantial. Life expectancy for the rich est women is almost 89, about 10 years longer than the poorest.
The authors -economists from Stanford University , MIT, Harvard, consulting firm McKinsey & Co., and the US treasury’s office of tax analysis -used data from 1.4 billion tax records over 15 years and matched them to death records from social security administration.
The change between 2001 and 2014 shows the wealthy are benefiting more from gains in longevity than the destitute. Men among the top 5% of earners gained more than two years and women gained almost three. In the bottom 5%, life expectancy for men only increased by a few months, and for women, hardly at all.
When the researchers looked at how life expectancy changed by geography , there were some bright spots. Among the bottom 25% of incomes, some regions had longevity gains of more than four years, while others lost more than two years. The differences “suggest the increasing inequality in health outcomes in US as a whole is not immutable.”
The shortest life expectancy in the poorest quartile was in Oklahoma and rust-belt cities like Gary and Toledo. The longest was in New York and San Francisco.
The geographic differences in life expectancy for low-income people weren’t strongly explained by access to health care, unemployment rates, or housing segregation, the authors write.Instead, lifestyle and behavior were at work: smoking, obesity , and exercise. “Individuals in the lowest income quartile have more healthful behaviors and live longer in areas with more immigrants, higher home prices, and more college graduates,” the researchers found.