The Rich Are Living Longer: A Lot Longer Than the Poor

Rich men average 12 years longer; rich women average 10 years more.



A new report from the Brookings Institution parses social security data to discover that the disparity in longevity between the rich and the poor has been growing. The researchers looked at life expectancy at age 50 by income levels comparing those born in 1920 with those born in 1940. Among other things that they found is that average life expectancy for women in the bottom tenth (80 years) of the income distribution did not change. On the other hand, life expectancy for women in the top tenth of the 1940 cohort rose by 6.4 years; from just over 84 years to 90.5 years. 

The results were similar for men. Life expectancy at 50 for men in the bottom tenth of income distribution actually did rise by 1.7 years whereas men in the top tenth gained 8.7 years life expectancy. Overall, life expectancy for poor men in the 1940 cohort averaged 76 years compared to 88 years for men in the top tenth of income distribution.

So why is the longevity gap between the rich and poor growing? One big factor is that the rich smoke much less. The New York Times notes that obesity doesn't seem to be much of a factor since rates of obesity among the rich and the poor have been converging. I have earlier reported on research that finds that drug overdosing, suicides, and chronic liver diseases are increasing mortality rates among poor whites. Interestingly, a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine study concluded that lack of access to health care accounted for only about 10 percent of premature deaths.


One question not asked was are the poor sicker because they are poor or are they poor because they are sicker? It could be the case that modernity has eliminated many of the earlier causes of premature death, e.g., infectious diseases and accidents, thus revealing innate health disparities that affect the ability of people to earn incomes. People who suffer from chronic diseases earlier in life are more likely to earn less money than are their healthier fellow citizens.

The Brookings report also observes that because the rich are living longer, they will get much more out of Social Security than their poorer fellow citizens. The researchers note, "Even though the formula that determines monthly Social Security pensions is progressive, a growing share of the progressivity is offset on a lifetime basis by the growing difference between the post-retirement life spans of low- and high-wage workers." In addition, poorer Americans tend to retire earlier which also reduces their Social Security payouts. So proposals to raise the age at which Social Security benefit payments begin would disproportionately impact poorer Americans.

NEXT: If You Don't Need Those Big Bills, You Probably Don't Need Cash At All. Do You, Now?

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  1. OT: Pope almost has to bring the smackdown!…..7761.html#

  2. Hey Ron, did they look at healthcare spending between the two groups? Did the rich spend more (including insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, VA, etc.), and if so did they actually benefit from that spending with additional longevity?

    In addition, poorer Americans tend to retire earlier which also reduces their Social Security payouts.

    So working longer is a way to make more money. I knew it!

    1. It’s often not a choice. Nearly every member of my family a generation back (working class) retired early due to their bodies breaking down from a life time of physical labor. Construction workers, farmers, and factory workers often have a shelf life that expires before the average accountant, lawyer, or engineer.

      1. The poorer folks have harder jobs and also more dangerous ones. The death rate among investment bankers is probably lower than that of loggers or roofing workers. Also, those we think of as poor tend to murder each other much oftener than the better off.

  3. You know where this will end, right? We must have equality of outcome!

    1. Bernie, do something about this!!! To the Berniemobile!

    2. At 30, we must all go to the Carousel!

    3. What, kill everyone when they hit the “retirement” age? Then you’ve got Rubio or Cruz running unopposed in November. We can’t have that!

      1. I would like to see Hillary and Bernie in a remake of Logan’s Run.

  4. “So why is the longevity gap between the rich and poor growing? One big factor is that the rich smoke much less. The New York Times notes that obesity doesn’t seem to be much of a factor since rates of obesity among the rich and the poor have been converging.”

    But it could still be a factor because if obese rich people tend to fall on the “low end” of the obese scale whereas obese poor people tend to be more obese, then the obese poor people will still have worse problems with obesity related illnesses.

    In my experience, you see a lot more extreme obesity among very poor people than among the rich.

    1. Oh, I also just noticed another issue: Because they’re looking at life expectancy differences between people born in 1920 and people born in 1940, narrowing rates of obesity TODAY don’t tell us anything about the cohort in question.

      If obesity rates are narrowing because young people’s obesity rates are narrowing, then that wouldn’t impact this data at all. You’d have to look at the difference between the obesity rates of the 1920’s cohort and the 1940’s cohort in order to determine what impact obesity had on the findings.

    2. The rich obese may be far more inclined to purchase more nutrient dense foods, found at Whole Foods and the like, whereas the poor might be far more inclined to patronize McDonald’s, Burger World, Wendy’s et al.

      Of course, there are some who would argue that the chicken found in McNuggets or Burger King’s Italian chicken sandwich is no different than the organic, cage free, free range, and grass fed chicken offered for sale at Whole Foods.

      1. Protein isn’t where the nutrient gap is in America. We all get enough protein unless we are morons (that’s why we are all so damn tall). The issue is the poor eat iceberg lettuce (green solid water) and the rich have moved to spinach salads (actual vitamins).

        1. Obesity is not caused by an excess of lettuce-eating. And acute vitamin deficiency is not a major problem in this country.

          The primary cause is and always has been eating too much. If you start getting fat, eat less (or better yet, eat things that fill you up, so you don’t want to eat as much).

  5. As a general rule, poor people are poor because they make poor decisions. This affects both income and life expectancy.

    I’m sure this statement will make leftists fly into an emotional rage, because that’s how they tend to react to the truth.

    1. Leftists can accept the fact that poor people make poor decisions. That’s the Left’s excuse for trying to make all decisions for everybody. It’s the only way to make things fair.

      1. What we need to is educate the poor on how to make better decisions. We need to start compulsory schooling earlier, we need to send more people to college. It’s all about education.

        1. And we need to outlaw private and home-schooling so we can make sure every kid gets taught the right lessons about decision making.

        2. Since people having college educations live longer – ergo [I learned that word in college] – if everyone goes to college, everyone lives for long time!

    2. As a general rule, poor people are often assisted by the state in staying poor.

      1. Going on state assistance is a poor decision.

        1. No, going on state assistance is the result of previous poor decisions. Once you’ve made those poor decisions, going on state assistance might be the only option left. I mean, who’s going to hire a bankrupt, drug-addicted felon with the current minimum wage and PPACA requirements?

        2. Yes, indeed.

          But you know damn well that the state does not hesitate to flex its muscles in aid of its effort to keep the poor from prospering. See barriers to entry, compliance, licensing, taxation, etc.

          1. No. Those things are done with good intentions. They could never result in keeping the poor from prospering. That’s not the intention, so it’s impossible that that could be the result.

    3. This. The reason why they’re poor physically and fiscally is because they on average have lower IQs and make bad decisions. Nothing will change this. The best they can hope for is for more intelligent people creating medical breakthroughs to help them.

      1. I thought the best you could hope for is a quick death, which you won’t get.

      2. The truth. My sister’s idiot mother-in-law is in the process of dying of cancer – after years of a chain smoking, garbage-eating, sedentary lifestyle. Of course Medicare will pay the costs to care for her over next few weeks or months.

        My “rich” parents are older but far healthier since they actually tried to lead healthy lifestyles.

    4. At one of my pre-baby classes, the instructor pointed out that sleeping on the back was the #4 factor in preventing SIDS. But they stressed it because the first 3 were things parents were unlikely to change.

      Iirc, #1 was smoking and #2 was being poor.

  6. OT, but this seems the closest place I could find. Can we please do away with any pretense that the ACLU gives a shit about criminal justice reform:…../y9rtUPHvF

    “To Convict, Prove a Guilty Mind,” by Gideon Yaffe (Op-Ed, Feb. 12), highlights a tiny element of proposed criminal justice reforms, the reform of “mens rea” provisions. These plans, if implemented, would require prosecutors to prove that a defendant was aware of the illegal nature of his or her actions and intended to cause them. Proving such intent would be nearly impossible for many financial, environmental and regulatory crimes but relatively simple for drug and property crimes.

  7. You know, the rich won’t live longer than the poor if we start confiscating their assets and then cook their bodies into a nutricious broth that we can feed to the homeless. That’ll make the statistics even.

    1. Do you troll on Gawker and Deadspin?

      1. “troll?” No, I debate there.

        The overly sensitive screaming campus garbage babies over there may think that alternative viewpoints are trolling, though.

        (And I like Iowahawk’s twitter, obviously)

        1. Ha, sorry, didn’t mean to offend, I have just seen your work 🙂

          1. There’s a good Hamilton “Socialism Forever” Nolan article I’m on right now. He’s asking if anybody has any better ideas for fixing racial economic inequality.

            The other posters don’t like me saying that maybe this is something government can’t solve without some sort of massive involvement in everybody’s lives.

  8. This is great news. If we can keep pushing this disparity even further, we can fix Medicare and Social Security.

  9. I fail to see the problem here, are people suggesting that the poor want to spend another decade or more wallowing in their filthy and miserable existence?

    1. “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
      “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

    2. It’s true. The last year of your life is usually the worst year of your life too.

    3. A .25 cal. bullets in every (poor) skull!
      /my new campaign slogan

  10. General intelligence (IQ) and health (“good genes”) are correlated, as are general intelligence and wealth.

  11. Comparing longevity between groups 90 and 70 years ago seems like a stretch to me. Modern medicine has changed dramatically between now and 70 years ago. This seems like measuring car mileage 70 years ago and 90 years ago. Interesting maybe, but ultimately not very helpful unless you’re writing a history book about the inequality in medicine nearly a century ago. This constant drumbeat about inequality this or that is making me crazy. There’s always been inequality, and there always will be. That’s my bold claim of the day. Learn to accept that and work to improve your outcome as best you can. Worrying about inequality is like wishing the sky wasn’t blue on a clear day. A waste of time and effort. Everyone and their dog is pissing and moaning about some kind of inequality. It’s a fact of life, like a social version of physics. Winners and losers, there will always be both, and the losers will always bitch about losing. As long as they strive to win, then they’re reacting rationally. If they think they’re entitled to win, then they’re delusional. I am beginning to veer off track…

    1. I want to hear from Iwo!
      /sorry, I’ll show myself out

    2. I was thinking it wasnt far enough back. Born in 1940 males you only 76 this year, so we really dont know your life expectency yet. They are all still below the average expected number (except the dead ones).

      1900 and 1920 seem better to measure. You can estimate a good tail for the 1920 folk.

      1. s/males/makes/

  12. In related news, guys who get some sugar every once in a while are happier than those who don’t.

    In the words of a great philosopher, “Women seem wicked when you’re alone”.

  13. Perhaps being sicker and poorer are not in a cause and effect relationship…perhaps they both are caused by some other thing. For example, people who make poor health choices (e.g. smoking) may also make poor financial decisions and other lifestyle choices.

    1. I’ve seen statistics that suggest one of the primary factors determining how long you live as a man is whether your wife, girlfriend, or significant other dies before you.

      Men whose wives die before them tend to die much sooner. And it isn’t just suicides. Their health deteriorates. Their psychological well being deteriorates. The most significant thing men can do after their wife dies to bring their expected life span back up?

      Is get another girl. You get remarried, and your life expectancy goes right back up to where it was again.

      You know what actuaries say happens to the lifespan of women whose husbands die before them?

      The correct answer is “absolutely nothing”.

      They miss us once we’re gone–for a while. They’re very sad–for a while.

      1. Point was, richer men probably have fewer problems attracting and keeping female companionship available.

        Go down to your local dive at 2:00 in the afternoon, and the miserable poor old bastards you see probably don’t have anybody waiting for them at home.

      2. Hehe. Yes, check out Taylor’s The Tending Instinct (and see the tend+befriend hypothesis). There’s the implication, gently expressed, that women may want to reconsider living with men. Worth thinking about, while I suspect that the alternative to relationships with men is practically worse. More plausible are changes to how one lives together.

        I don’t recall whether the main problem begins when men retire.

  14. Did it also look at who is more likely to get themselves killed doing something stupid. All the gangbangers getting themselves shot because some other gangbanger disrespected them are for the most part poor. I imagine that skews the numbers quite a bit.

    1. Yeah, greater aggression, risk taking (choice of occupation and personal life), and disregarding harm (“insensitivity”) does affect men. There are clear disadvantages. There are also distinct advantages to manliness.

  15. Side note: Death gap. Patriarchy killing men. Especially, unsuccessful – poor – men. “Equality feminists” should focus on helping poor men.

    RE income distribution, are the measure the same for men and women, or do the two groups have specific, independent measures?

    1. *are the measure[s] the same

  16. One question not asked was are the poor sicker because they are poor or are they poor because they are sicker? It could be the case that modernity has eliminated many of the earlier causes of premature death, e.g., infectious diseases and accidents, thus revealing innate health disparities that affect the ability of people to earn incomes.

    Alternatively/additionally, the same things that help make you rich might help make you healthy.

    Thinking only of immediate satisfaction helps keep you poor … and makes you more likely to ignore your health. Believing “things happen to me” rather than “I make things happen” keeps you poor – and likewise doesn’t make you exercise or get checkups.

    (That’s almost certainly not the whole cause of the gap, but it’d be shocking if it was none of it.

    Naturally there’s no perfect correlation – some people inherit wealth and squander it – reversion to the mean is one reason I don’t care about The Evil Wicked Horrible 1% and their Imminent Permanent Domination Of The World, as Progressives seem to view it.

    But given America’s still-high income mobility, most people who are in the top 10% weren’t just born into it and also lack the worldview that keeps you there; even those born into wealth absorb some of their parents’ wealth-maximizing worldview.)

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