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Why Rich People Live Longer


The 1% not only has more money, but more time to enjoy it. Rich men live longer than their lower-income counterparts, primarily because the latter are more likely to lead an unhealthier lifestyle, a new study shows.

Today, the wealthiest men live to 80.4 years on average, some six years longer than a man in a lower socio-economic group, according to the research carried out by the U.K.-based Longevity Science Advisory Panel, a non-profit group. And that life expectancy gap between rich and poor is widening: Some 20 years ago, a man born into a higher socio-economic group would be expected to live 75.6 years, nearly five years more than a person in a lower socio-economic group.

The reason appears to have more to do with how people choose to spend their money, the study says. It cites a wide body of research concluding that lower-income workers are more likely to smoke, they drink greater quantities of alcohol, and also have higher rates of obesity. A case in point: A 2011 U.K. government study concluded that in 2009 there were over 6,500 deaths in England directly attributed to alcohol — and the mortality rates were highest among the poor.

The gap mirrors a growing body of research showing a similar trend in the U.S., experts say. A 2010 study by the U.S. Social Security Administration found that men aged 65 who are covered by Social Security in the bottom quarter of distributions live 2.3 years less than those in the top quarter. Monique Morrissey, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit think-tank, says obesity rates and smoking only tell part of the story. “These behavioral factors still can’t explain the widening gap in life expectancy,” she says.

Morrissey says access to quality healthcare is also a major factor. She notes one policy that would make matters worse: Raising the eligibility age for Medicare and the retirement age for Social Security: “This would disproportionately affect the living standard of low-income retirees who rely the most on these programs,” she says.


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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to or tweet @SMPayDirt.