As Americans discuss the issue of income inequality in an election year, a new study says rich people will live up to 15 years longer than poor ones.
A rich 40-year-old man in the United States can expect to live until about 87. A poor 40-year-old man might only live until 73.
The difference in length of life as it relates to income is part of a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Health Inequality Project studied about 1.4 billion income tax records from a 15-year period ending in 2014. While people might have guessed that wealth allows for a longer life, the study reviewed more data than any similar studies in the past.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic Party nomination. He often talks of the gap between rich and poor in the United States. Rich people have better access health care than poor people, and that can increase their lifespan.
Sanders launched his campaign almost a year ago. In his speech, he said, “the issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time and it is the great political issue of our time.”
Angus Deaton wrote a column about the study on the medical association’s website. He says a study like the Health Inequality Project is important because it will help people understand whether “tax and distribution policies could be effective tools of public health and potentially extend life expectancy.”
The study backed up the assumption that wealthy people live longer than poor people. But it also revealed something new.
The researchers say it is not only bad to be poor. They say it is worse to be poor in certain parts of the United States than others.
Poor people in depressed cities like Detroit, Michigan; Toledo, Ohio; and Gary, Indiana are worse off than poor people in places like San Francisco, California and New York City.
Recently, the governor of Michigan declared a state of emergency in the city of Flint. The water supply for its 100,000 residents became contaminated with lead.
Drinking water contaminated with lead is harmful to people’s health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (or NAACP) is an organization that fights against discrimination. It says more would have been done “if nearly 40 percent of Flint residents were not living below the poverty line.”
The opposite is also true. The researchers say poor people who live near rich people may be healthier because they see better examples of how to live. They also may be healthier because wealthier places usually have better public health services.
At the same time, poor people will struggle even more in depressed cities.
The authors of the study say they are aware of some of the problems with their report. For example, the study measures life expectancy starting at age 40. That does not fully consider causes of death that affect younger people and children.
They also say there is not a good way to understand some of the coincidental benefits of having a higher income.
Deaton writes the wealthiest people in the United States gain an extra 10-15 years to enjoy their “richly funded lives.” And there is no way to put a value on 10-15 years of good living.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Words in This Story
income tax – n. a tax paid on the money that a person or business earns
guess – v. to form an opinion or give an answer about something when you do not know much or anything about it
trail – n. a route that someone follows to go somewhere or achieve something
gap – n. a space between two people or things
inequality – n. an unfair situation in which some people have more rights or better chances than other people
column – n. an opinion piece that often appears in a newspaper or magazine
assumption – n. something that is believed to be true or probably true but that is not known to be true
coincidence – n. a situation in which events happen at the same time in a way that is not planned or expected
fund - v. to provide money for (something)