The Connection Between Wealth, Health, and LongevityOctober 6, 2022
A 1994 study called “Midlife in the United States (MIDUS)” revealed a strong relationship between wealth, health, and longevity, and although the authors were unable to determine the cause, their findings were consistent across cultures.
How is wealth determined?
Net worth is a measure of wealth that is calculated by subtracting everything you owe from everything you own.
In 1994, the poorest 10% of Americans were living from paycheck to paycheck or were unemployed. Most had a zero net worth, while the richest had an average net worth of $600,000.
In 2016, the net worth of the poorest 10% actually dropped below zero, owing an average of $950 more than they owned. By contrast, those at the top increased their individual holdings by an average of $1.2 million.
According to the authors of the study, “the wealth gap between the high-income and low-income people in the U.S. has widened through policies and practices that have diverted a substantial and increasing share of wealth from the lower- and middle-income groups to the affluent group.”
This, in turn, has led to differences between the health outcomes of fortunate and less fortunate groups.
What’s the correlation between health, wealth, and longevity?
Scientists can’t quite explain the correlation. While regular exercise and a healthy diet support health and longevity, these alone cannot explain the health-wealth-longevity connection. Wealthier individuals also live longer because they have better access to world-class health care and education.
Geography may play a role as well. The New York Times has also reported that among disadvantaged people in the United States, those living in cities like New York, Miami, and San Jose lived longer than those living in Detroit, Tulsa, and Las Vegas.
Researchers have also found that wealthy people have a more positive demeanor than the less affluent; after all, it’s easier to look on the bright side when the bills are always paid. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that rich people more often value their health over their money, while people with a low income more likely prioritize money over health.
Furthermore, financial difficulties are a major source of stress, and high stress levels have been linked to a number of mental and physical conditions:
- Heart disease
- Metabolic disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Major depression
- Mood disorders
The effects of occasional, short-lived stress do not pose a health hazard; chronic stress, however, causes the adrenal glands to go into overdrive and flood the body with adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that supercharge the body to deal with an immediate threat. Extended activation of adrenaline and cortisol can damage adrenal glands, lead to chronic burnout and other health issues.
The higher your status, the longer your life
Researchers have found a positive correlation between social status and longevity. In most of Europe, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, health improves with social position; the higher your social standing, the healthier you tend to be and the longer you tend to live.
By contrast, those in the lowest social classes tend to have poorer health and shorter life expectancies. According to the World Health Association (WHO), “People further down the social ladder usually run at least twice the risk of serious illness and premature death of those near the top.”
In a 1994 study of civil servants, researchers also found that the higher an employee’s status within the hierarchy, the healthier that employee was likely to be. The authors of the study pointed out that “each civil service rank outlived the one immediately below. In other words, social position is a predictor of longevity, and long-term exposure to the conditions of lower status amplifies cellular aging.
The bottom line
Experts agree that individuals who are financially prepared are more likely to be healthier, and that concerns over finances can affect a person’s ability to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Planning for a richer today and a more secure tomorrow is the best way to ensure a healthy, prosperous retirement.