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Richest live longer but gap not as dismal in some USA cities

Richest live longer but gap not as dismal in some USA cities

Where they live and how much they earn significantly affects the average American's longevity, a new study suggests.

For the study, published today in JAMA, a group of researchers led byStanford University economist Raj Chetty analyzed income data for the USA population from 1.4 billion tax records between 1999 and 2014. Since 2001, two years after the start of the study, the top 5 percent of men and women gained over two years of life, while the bottom 5 percent added less than four months to their life expectancy, on average. In fact, a recent study indicates the life expectancy of the America's poorest residents in counties like Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando, life expectancy dropped by more than 2 years between 2001 and 2014. For people in the bottom income quartile, places with the highest life expectancies were mostly in California, whereas the lowest life expectancies were clustered in the industrial Midwest. By contrast, a 40-year old man in the top 1% of American income distribution has higher life expectancy than men anywhere on the planet.

The Health Inequality Project released findings from research on incomes and life expectancy, and it appears that how long you live can be tied to how much money you make.

To put that five-year difference in life expectancy in perspective, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that overall life expectancy in the nation would rise by only about three years if people no longer died of cancer.

The study did not include people with no income.

"We're able to provide a more detailed picture than has been available of that ever before in the United States, and so we can both tell you how large those gaps are for the very richest Americans and the very poorest Americans, as well as how fast those gaps have been growing".

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"The places with shorter life expectancy tend to be places with higher rates of smoking, higher rates of obesity and lower rates of exercise", Chetty pointed out.

"If we think about a policy like indexing the retirement age to life expectancy, we need to think hard about which life expectancy we are talking about. Inequality in health reinforces inequality in income, and perhaps even a longer life is for sale".

How big is the life expectancy gap? It is not significantly correlated with quality or quantity of medical care, income inequality or residential segregation. Among the findings are that (a) the very rich live a lot longer than the very poor, and (b) geography matters.

For decades, researchers have thought employment, pollution and access to health care have been the prime drivers behind the disparity in mortality rates among low-income citizens. "The key question going forward is why, exactly, we see better health behaviors in low-income individuals living in such affluent cities". For men, it increased by about 2 years and for women, it jumped by about 3 years. But because the causes of economic inequality are structural and varied - and because the wealthy exert outsize influence over our (dysfunctional) political system - it's welcome news that poor people in municipalities as unequal as New York City are, nonetheless, living longer.

The longest life expectancy for poor residents existed in NY, where the life expectancy was 81.8 years, according to the research. These tend to be areas with health-related public policies including smoking bans and high levels of funding for public services, the researchers said.

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