What is the Relationship Between Your Wealth and Life Expectancy?
We often like to think that health and wealth operate in separate spheres. That somehow, the cold, hard numbers of our bank account don’t affect the organic, pulsating rhythm of our hearts. But, reality can be a stern teacher. As it turns out, wealth and health, more specifically life expectancy, share a closely intertwined relationship.
So, what’s going on?
Let’s grab some insights from a study led by the University College London (UCL) published in the Journal of Gerontology. The study followed the lives of thousands of adults in England and the US aged 50 and above over a decade. The mission was clear: to unravel how long these people can expect to live free from disabilities and what role socioeconomic factors play in this.
In a twist that would make Agatha Christie proud, the study discovered that wealth was the biggest socioeconomic advantage in terms of disability-free life expectancy.
Wealthy men and women could expect to live an additional eight to nine years free from disability compared to people in the poorest groups. Quite a staggering difference, wouldn’t you agree?
But it’s not all about the length of life, quality matters too.
After all, life isn’t a novel to be judged by its thickness but by the richness of its narrative. Thus, the term ‘healthy life expectancy’ enters the scene, denoting years of life spent in favourable states of health or without disability. And once again, wealthier individuals are dealt the winning hand.
Let’s focus our lens on Blackpool now.
According to recent figures, our very-own Fylde seaside resort has the dubious honour of having the lowest life expectancy in the UK. Even within Blackpool, the inequalities are striking with a 13.2-year difference in life expectancy between men from the least and most deprived areas. The equivalent difference for women is 9.5 years. Quite a gap to bridge, isn’t it?
So, why this correlation between wealth and life expectancy?
We can look at this through multiple lenses.
One possible explanation is that wealthier individuals can afford better healthcare services, live in healthier environments, and have access to healthier lifestyle choices. But then again, health isn’t a commodity to be simply bought or sold, right?
Another angle is that wealth provides individuals with more control over their life circumstances and reduces exposure to stressful situations. Reduced stress levels, in turn, contribute to a healthier life. Furthermore, wealth can enable people to lead more active, engaging lives – potentially increasing both the quantity and quality of life.
Yet, despite the seemingly clear connection between wealth and life expectancy, it’s worth remembering that life is far from a simple cause-and-effect equation. There are a myriad of variables at play – some tangible, some less so.
Ultimately, there are two challenges.
One lies in making health a universal privilege rather than a luxury for the few. Secondly, improving financial literacy for all can help to redress the balance and bring more benefits of financial security to more people. In the delicate dance of life and wealth, shouldn’t everyone have the right to a fair waltz?
It’s clear that policymakers have a significant role to play in bridging this health-wealth gap. Their decisions can have profound effects on public expenditure on health, income, long-term care of older people, and work participation.
Given the evidence, reducing health inequalities should surely sit at the top of their to-do list. But only time will tell whether this will happen. After all, change is often a slow dance, even if the music’s tempo suggests otherwise.