Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Life Expectancy Inequality Growing

We don't often think about life expectancy when we talk about inequality; however, we should, because (according to the NYT) new government research has found “large and growing” disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.

According to researcher Dr. Singh, federal officials have found “widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy” at birth and at every age level in counties across the United States.
In 1980-82, Dr. Singh said, people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group (75.8 versus 73 years). By 1998-2000, the difference in life expectancy had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 versus 74.7 years), and it continues to grow, he said.

After 20 years, the lowest socioeconomic group lagged further behind the most affluent, Dr. Singh said, noting that “life expectancy was higher for the most affluent in 1980 than for the most deprived group in 2000.” [emphasis mine]

“If you look at the extremes in 2000,” Dr. Singh said, “men in the most deprived counties had 10 years’ shorter life expectancy than women in the most affluent counties (71.5 years versus 81.3 years).” The difference between poor black men and affluent white women was more than 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).
Can wealth affect health? According to USA Today, researchers have studied the influence of socioeconomic status on health and that research will get TV time on PBS over the next month in the form of a four-part documentary, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? Here's a brief synopsis about the show and their findings:
The point of the series and the research it draws on is not that we are powerless to improve our health: Whether you are rich or poor, it's a bad idea to smoke and a good idea to eat fruits and vegetables. It's also good to have health insurance.

But all those things are harder to sustain and may do you less good if you live in a dangerous, unwalkable neighborhood with lots of fast food and no supermarkets; if you have little control in your work life; if you are constantly worried about money, housing and safety; and if, on top of it all, you live with the lifelong stress of racial discrimination.

"Personal behavior and personal choices are important," Troutman says. "But we also need to recognize that educational policy is health policy, economic policy is health policy, housing policy is health policy."

And, at a time of widespread economic pain, when the "poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being squeezed," in the words of one sociologist quoted in the film, there's plenty of reason to worry about the literal health of the nation.
The show airs in the Flint area for the first time tonight. Click here to check your local area.

Besides discussing the connections between healthy bodies and healthy bank accounts, the documentary will also show why residents of poorer nations live longer and healthier lives. For instance, according to Native American Times, the series shows that Hispanic immigrants to the U.S. are healthier than average American citizens, but within a generation their health declines and they become more like the rest of us. That's just plain sad.

(Cross-posted at BFM.)


Lew Scannon said...

Lower income people often work manual labor type jobs, and are too tired at the end of the day to exercise. Higher income people don't do menial jobs, so they will spend their lunch hour working out or running.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive than processed ones, and the processed ones are lacking vital nutrients that the fresh fruit carries. Plus the more processed, the more likely unhealthy (yet government approved) food additives are present.

Kathy said...

Lew, thanks for pointing those fact outs. I think the fresh fruits and vegetables are important too, yet they're real budget busters for low income people. It would help to increase food stamp allotments, but that's not likely to happen as long as the conservatives are in power.