Money Can Buy Me ... Life?

Money Can Buy Me ... Life?

Call it the latest twist on income disparity: One researcher has found that the wealthier you are, the longer you can expect to live—and this is especially true if you are a woman.

Using data from the University of Michigan’s "Health & Retirement Study" which examines more than 26,000 Americans’ health and work lives over many years, economist Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institution uncovered several surprising trends at the intersection of income, health and gender, the Wall Street Journal reports.

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The study compared data between men and women born in 1940 versus those born in 1920, and found that across both genders, the life expectancies of the richest 10% are growing faster than the life expectancies of the lowest 10%.

For example, a 55-year-old man born in 1920 whose mid-career income was among the top 10% could expect to live another 29 years. By comparison, a 55-year-old man born in 1955 in the top 10% of income can expect to live for 34.9 more years—a gain of almost six years. In the lowest 10%, a 55-year-old born in 1940 can only expect to live another 24.2 years—a gain of just 1.6 years over his counterpart born in 1920.

The longevity gap among women shows an even more astonishing difference. Women in the richest 10% born in 1940 can expect to live another 35.3 years—3.2 years longer than their 1920 cohorts. Those born in 1940 in the poorest 10% can expect to live another 25.8 years—which is a loss of 2.1 years from the poorest born in 1920.

The reason why these numbers are important, according to the Brookings study, is because of the implications it has for Social Security. Some policymakers advocate raising the age of eligibility for full benefits as one way to deal with the coming Social Security shortfall. But because the richest would have the longest lifespans, they would disproportionately benefit from an older retirement age.

“It’s really hard to come up with some effective means of trying to equalize this,” Bosworth told the Wall Street Journal. “And that’s a serious concern.”

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