February 17, 2016

The Ultimate Gap Stemming From Income Inequality:  Life Itself

The article by Sabrina Tavernise in the Saturday, February 13, edition of The New York Times, “LIFE SPANS OF THE RICH AND POOR” demonstrates in a horrifyingly compelling way yet another dimension in which income inequality impacts people’s lives—the very length of their lives.

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.  Fast-forward to 2001 and he could expect to live 5.8 years longer than his poorer counterpart. 

New research released this month contains even more jarring data.  Looking at the extreme ends of the income spectrum, economists at the Brookings Institution found that for men born in 1920 there was a six-year difference in life expectancy between the top 10% of earners and the bottom 10%.  For men born in 1950, that difference had more than doubled to 14 years.  For women, the gap grew to 13 years from 4.7 years.

Why?  The report sees different smoking habits accounting for perhaps a third of the gap.  Some of the difference could be attributed to somewhat higher obesity.  But an enormous part is attributed to the availability of health care support in all its dimensions.

Here is another data point.  For men born in 1950, life expectancy is about 73 years, for the poorest 10%.  For the highest 10%, it is about 87 years.  Women are somewhat higher; about age 76 for the poorest 10% and about age 88 for the highest 10%.

Think of that.  A decade more of life for the highest income versus the lowest.  It makes you think about what we can do to at least provide people with the opportunity to escape poverty.  Which inevitably brings you back to education and development and health, starting from the earliest years, 0-5, including quality Pre-K.

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