Healthify Blog

Another Growing Inequality Between the Rich and the Poor: Life Spans

The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer, but there's another inequality that's growing between the two groups: their life spans.
Despite advances in medicine and technology, and in addition to the fact that rich people generally live longer than poor people, it's become clear that poor people's life spans aren't lengthening at the same rate as rich people's, The New York Times reported this past weekend.
(Image Source: Google Images Clipart)
In the early 1970s, a 60-year-old man in the top half of the earnings ladder could expect to live 1.2 years longer than a man of the same age in the bottom half, but in 2001, he could expect to live 5.8 years longer than his poorer counterpart, the newspaper reported, citing a Social Security Administration analysis. 
Overall, according to a Brookings Institution study cited by the NYT, life expectancy for the bottom 10 percent of wage earners improved by 3 percent for men born in 1950 compared with those born in 1920; meanwhile, for the top 10 percent of wage earners, it jumped 28 percent.
A reduction in smoking among the rich and educated could be one of the causes of the growing life span gap, as well as the prescription drug epidemic affecting poor white communities, the NYT reported. But interestingly enough, limited access to healthcare accounts for surprisingly few premature deaths in America, researchers found.
The lack of that factor could mean that the life span gap has less to do with things like having health insurance, getting check-ups from doctors and taking medicine; and more to do with the social determinants of health. 
Elizabeth H. Bradley, Yale professor of public health, told the NYT that economic and social inequities are at the heart of the widening gap, and that they're "things that high-tech medicine cannot fix."
Healthify's perspective is that efficiently connecting underserved people to social programs that will help them with housing, food and job placement -- things that aren't often considered at the heart of the healthcare  -- may actually make a huge difference in their health. That, in turn, could contribute to closing the life span gap between the rich and the poor.
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Topics: social determinants of health health disparities