Wealth begets longevity (more so for some than others!)

An article in the Wall Street Journal, featured recently in Mother Jones, reminds us that the richer you are, the longer you’ll live. And that the gap is widening, particularly among women. The article notes that a man born in 1940 would be mid-career in 1980 and if his income was in the top 10% for his age group and he lived to age 55 he can expect to live an additional 34.9 years. This is six years longer than a man whose career followed the same arc, but who was born in 1920. (I squeezed in between those dates so I will split the difference). The important message is that for women ‘at every income level, for both those born in 1920 and 1940, women live longer than men. But for women, the longevity and income trends are even more striking. While the wealthiest women from the 1940s are living longer, the poorest 40% are seeing life expectancy decline from the previous generation.’ In other words, “At the bottom of the distribution, life is not improving rapidly for women anymore.” Part of the explanation may be differences in smoking rates but somewhat disappointing (but not surprising) is the failure to examine the well-known differences by income and by sex for fatal injuries. A mid-career paper that I co-authored addressed part of this topic for motor vehicle injuries and deaths in children. (Social class and the occurrence of traffic injuries and deaths in urban children. G Dougherty, IB Pless, R Wilkins – Canadian Journal of Public Health. 1989).   I have been interested in this topic ever since and still am uncertain whether the difference is driven (no pun intended) by environmental features associated with low income, worse driving, poorer enforcement, all of the above, or many other factors. I wonder what readers of this blog think.

Although the WSJ article raised questions about the implications of these findings for Social Security equity in the U.S., for me they served as a reminder that we still do not have good explanations for the large and persistent sex and social class differences in injury mortality.


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