New Study Shows How Wealth Inequality Also Means Health Inequality

Location, location, location.

The rich live longer than the poor in every corner of the United States. But you're worse off being poor in certain places than in others.

New research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the gap in life expectancy between the richest 1 percent of Americans and poorest 1 percent was 14.6 years for men and 10.1 years for women. 

Not only that, but the gap is widening: For men and women in the top 5 percent of income distribution between 2001 and 2014, life expectancy increased by 2.34 years and 2.91 years, respectively. On the other hand, life expectancy only increased 0.32 years for men and 0.04 years for women in the bottom 5 percent of the income distribution during that time.


The richest American men live 15 years longer than the poorest men, while the richest American women live 10 years longer than the poorest women.

While some poor Americans in cities like New York have seen increased life expectancy and live as long as their middle-class counterparts, in other parts of the country poor Americans die as young as the people in much poorer nations like Rwanda. This disparity suggests that actions taken at the local level can have an enormous impact on the lives of the American poor.

"You don't want to just think about why things are going badly for the poor in America," Raj Chetty, a Stanford economist and lead author of the study told The New York Times. "You want to think specifically about why they're going poorly in Tulsa and Detroit."

Conventional wisdom might make some of these observations seem obvious: more money means better healthcare and thus a longer life expectancy. But the new research, and studies that came before it, seem to show that it's how poor and rich Americans live that determines life expectancy. For instance, poor Americans are far more likely to smoke and exercise less than their middle-class or wealthy neighbors. 

Depending on where you live, wealth has a different effect on your life expectancy:

In fact, the new paper found that life expectancy was "not significantly correlated with access to medical care, physical environmental factors, income inequality, or labor market conditions." The differences in life expectancy had the strongest correlation with health-related behaviors like smoking and exercise.

Finally, the study also revealed that in cities where poor people had the longest lifespans, they also had the highest local government spending and concentration of college graduates. Some have attributed this correlation to the effect of education on people's health behaviors.

Here is a chart showing how life expectancy stacks up in the place you live:

The correlation between Income inequality and health inequality is an important thing to understand in the United States, where the top 1 percent owns 35 percent of the country's wealth. But as this research shows, tackling this problem needs to happen at the local level as well as at the national level in order to help the Americans most in need. 

To find out more about income inequality, you can go here


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