The life-span gap between the rich and the poor is growing

To most, it comes as no surprise that for people in poverty life can be hard. But new research indicates it may also be short. A study from the Brookings Institution found that the gap between the life spans of those in the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent of earners has widened in the United States over the last several decades. This longevity gap has grown from a six-year difference, for men born in 1920, to 14 years, for men born in 1950. Among women, the gap increased from 4.7 to 13 years. Possible causes for this worrying trend include a significant decrease in smoking among the wealthier group and increased abuse of prescription drugs among the less wealthy demographic.

The longevity gap also can exacerbate inequalities already present in society. For example, those who live longer reap the greatest benefits from programs like Social Security and Medicare, as they receive these benefits for longer amounts of time. Greater funding for programs that can help alleviate stress and offer care for those facing addiction and increased education to discourage smoking could improve life expectancy in low-income communities. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act may help to lessen this gap, but it is too soon to tell. And experts argue that access to medical care is not at the root of this problem. There is no easy answer to this growing disparity. Closing the longevity gap requires that our society address the many systemic injustices and everyday challenges, in all their complexity, faced by those in need.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Robert O'Connell
2 years 2 months ago
To some extent I feel obliged to say that this comment is underwhelimng: Do the editors search out problems to raise? Do they propose solutions? Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va., are separated by 350 miles, about a half-day’s drive. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq. Would you consider moving people from Iraq to Sweden or Fairfax County -- or visa versa -- to solve this issue? I ask because (a) differences among us seem to be "inequalities" and (b) cursing the darknes seems to be a trend rather than lighting a candle. If we each try harder to love God and love our neighbor, the important stuff will be accomplished. If we simply whine about our views, we (a) waste time & energy and (b) reseble Donald Trump.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The Holy Spirit might be the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity.
James Martin, S.J.May 21, 2018
Pope Francis walks past cardinals as he leaves a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 28, 2017. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis is trying to ensure that those who elect his successor are humble men committed to “a church of the poor and for the poor.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 21, 2018
James Martin, S.J. discusses this groundbreaking exhibition with Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute and C. Griffith Mann, Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge of the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
America StaffMay 21, 2018
Archbishop Matteo Zuppi (Photo/Community of Sant'Egidio website)
Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna calls Father James Martin’s book ‘Building a Bridge’ ‘useful for encouraging dialogue, as well as reciprocal knowledge and understanding.’
Matteo ZuppiMay 21, 2018