This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Rich Get Richer and Live Longer Too

There has been an increasing discussion about wealth and income inequality in the United States, and those inequities spill over--not surprisingly--into life expectancy differences. An article in today's NYTimes (and thanks to Professor Rumbaut for pointing this one out to me) discusses the data
Experts have long known that rich people generally live longer than poor people. But a growing body of data shows a more disturbing pattern: Despite big advances in medicine, technology and education, the longevity gap between high-income and low-income Americans has been widening sharply.
The poor are losing ground not only in income, but also in years of life, the most basic measure of well-being. 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, according to an analysis by the Social Security Administration. Fast-forward to 2001, and he could expect to live 5.8 years longer than his poorer counterpart.
New research released on Friday contains even more jarring numbers. 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 percent of earners and the bottom 10 percent. For men born in 1950, that difference had more than doubled, to 14 years.
The article points out that the causes of these disparities are not clear. Smoking certainly plays a role--the higher your income, the less likely you are to smoke. Cancer treatments, which can be very expensive even if you have insurance, are also more accessible to the rich than to the poor. But a range of factors may be at work.
At the heart of the disparity, said Elizabeth H. Bradley, a professor of public health at Yale, are economic and social inequities, “and those are things that high-tech medicine cannot fix.”
There is no doubt that the relatively low life expectancy among the poor in the U.S. is what drags the country down compared to other rich countries. And, of course, the one difference between the U.S. and all other rich countries (such as Canada, where disparities of these kind don't exist, according to the story), is that the U.S. does not have universal health care. We pay more than anyone else, but get less return on our health dollars than anyone else.

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