Here's How Much Your Life Expectancy Goes Up If You're Rich

Thomas Galvez/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Despite the leaps made in accessible health care, medical technology, and education, a new study suggests there’s a growing disparity between the life expectancy of high-income and low-income people living in the United States.

According to the study by Brookings Institution, poorer people are not reaping the same benefits of increasingly widespread healthcare and education. While the study indicates that life expectancy has increased across the board in the U.S. for the two different populations sampled – those born in 1920 and those born in 1950 – the rise has not been uniform. For the bottom 10 percent of male income earners in these two brackets, life expectancy rose by 3 percent, while the top 10 percent of earners saw their life expectancy jump by a considerable 28 percent.

In clearer terms, a rich man born in 1920 would typically live six years longer than a poor man, but someone born in 1950 with a high income would outlive someone with a low income by 14 years.

While the disparity is largest between men, the study also found a gap between rich and poor women as well. For women, the gap widened from 4.7 years to 13 years over the same time period.

In a radio interview with NPR, economist Gary Burtless, co-author of the study, explained that the reason for the trend is not exactly clear, although lifestyle is a likely culprit. 

“We don't know. More affluent Americans tend to engage more in systematic exercise," said Burtless. "They are less likely to be obese. Their smoking rates are lower. Those differences can help account for why there is a difference in how long people live. However, they do not seem to account for more than about a fifth of the increase in mortality differences between affluent and less-affluent people. So something else is going on in the background.”

Although Burtless went on to say that illegal drug-use is likely a factor, he concluded by saying: "Possibly, it is simply the effect of growing income inequality over the course of people's lives."

Main image credit: Thomas Galvez/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


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