The One Percent’s Shocking Death Gap: The Wealthy Outliving The Rest Of Us By A Shocking Number Of Years
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald “The Great Gatsby”
In this age of the super wealthy, where even awareness of the existence of the super wealthy has become much more widespread, the spotlight on the differences between us and them has never been more brightly lit, not in recent decades anyway.
Among other unearned advantages the wealthy enjoy, it has long been known that thy have better healthcare than the poor, it’s true. And so with presumably better access to healthy food, proper medical care, needed medications and treatments, it would follow then that the rich would have longer average life expectancy than the rest of the population.
But a recent study starkly illustrates just how pronounced that gap has gotten, and the results are disturbing.
Since 2001, men among the most affluent 5 percent of the population in the US have seen their life expectancy increase by more than two years. Women in the same demographic have shown a three-year increase in life span.
The poorest five percent, on the other hand have seen almost zero improvement.
Now a couple of things to consider: while at first blush a two or three year increase in lifespan might not seem like all that much. But according to CDC statistics, if by some miracle we were able to completely wipe out all forms of cancer tomorrow, rendering it a forgotten disease never to trouble us again, that massive act would only increase the average American lifespan by about three years.
So in just a mere 15 years time, as the study’s co-author Michael Stepner of MIT phrases it, what we have witnessed is “…the equivalent of the richest Americans winning the war on cancer.”
That’s a bit of a stunner when phrased that way.
Here’s another: a man from the richest one percent of Americans outlives a man from the poorest Americans by an average of 14.6 years. For women that gap is about 10 years.
So, the poor have ten or fifteen fewer years of life. A fact that, as Stepner observed, “…really demonstrates the level of inequality we’ve had in the United States.”
To be sure, there are a host of factors involved here. Poor dietary choices along with other health choices like smoking and over-consumption of alcohol are often more strongly associated with the poor. On the other hand, as the study’s authors point out, living in a deeply unequal society can cause stress, leading to such poor health choices.
At any rate, it seems that Fitzgerald’s observation about the very rich being different is more true than ever. Perhaps too is Ernest Hemmingway’s legendary rejoinder:
“Yes, they have more money.”
And now they even have more life.