Being Poor in the US Shortens Life Expectancy By 5 Years


A recent survey revealed that the US ranks poorly among industrialized nations as far as health care and economic opportunities for women. Another new study makes another strike against the US: For all that the US spends on health care, wide disparities exist for Americans. Life expectancy for poorer US citizens is five years less than that for affluent citizens, say researchers from Rice University and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Social scientists looked at historical data from 1930 through 2000 from the Human Mortality Database, to identify trends in mortality and predict life expectancy to the year 2055.

In 1930, average life expectancy was 59.85 years; by 2000, it was 77.1 years. But, says Justin Denney, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University who was the lead author for the study, most of the gains in life expectancy were made in the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s. Life expectancy has “flattened out” since that time.

Another trend that Denney notes is that, in those times when life expectancy has increased, the disparities between more and less advantaged groups have also grown. That is, “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, inequality grows and life expectancy is dramatically impacted.”

One reason behind this is that people who are more financially stable are better able to treat “many of the chronic conditions that have led to smaller gains in life expectancy,” whether by having more time in their lives to exercise, to live in healthier environments with less pollution, to obtain and prepare healthier foods and to pay for therapies (such as psychotherapy) that might help their overall health in ways seen and unseen. Plus, those with lower incomes may well live in places where there are “food deserts“; where it is harder to maintain a diet with plenty of  fresh fruits and vegetables and low in fats and sugars.

The life expectancy study, which is to be published in Social Science Quarterly, shows “the ugly side of inequality,” as Denney puts it. It also underscores the fact that, despite the “disproportionate” amount of funds the US spends on health care, life expectancy in the US is going “down the ladder of international rankings of length of life.” Long-term health and prosperity are not necessarily coordinated.

Denney’s study underscores the link between economic status and health though other studies show that just the advantages of a higher income do not always mean better outcomes for your health. An article in the medical journal The Lancet found that young people aged 10 – 24 years in the US  have the highest mortality rate among 27 high-income countries around the world, with American youth #1 in smoking marijuana and among the top binge drinkers in the world, and one-third of American children categorized as obese. With all of our resources and know-how, we ought to be doing something of a better job taking care of ourselves — you’d think.


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Photo by Franco Folini


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

DORIS L5 years ago

Not surprised...America has become the Land of the Rich and the Grave of the Poor.

Don H.
Don H5 years ago

Alex H, you say: "What has happened to American sense of community and compassion for their less fortunate fellow citizens?"

Alex, there has been a well coordinated right wing campaign to dampen concerns for our fellow citizens. They say, "If you feed them they will become lazy and dependent." These are the same sentiments expressed by the government of the United Kingdom when they allowed millions of poor Irish to starve to death. The right wing has replaced the bible with Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. They now see selfishness as a virtue. They want to take us back to the day of Charles Dickens. And they are well on their way to accomplishing this goal.

Barbra D.
Barbra Drake5 years ago

Before you start blaming the government, remember that everybody gets a chance to be part of the government in this country. Do you vote? Do you take advantage of the great opportunites the internet offers to actively contact your elected officials, and research candidates running for office? The internet is at everyone's fingertips and so then the government. The obscenely wealthy participate fully, buying and corrupting those candidates. Many of them go into office to do good, only to lose heart. There are a lot more of us regular guys then there are of millionaires. Support your elected officials! Find out what they stand for! Vote!

Alex H.
Alex H5 years ago

It's interesting to me that the so-called "Land of the Free"and "The World's Greatest Democracy" is also the land with the greatest covert surveillance of its population and also the land of millions of poor,needy and people living in cars and tents?!The US population needs to wake up and see exactly what sort of country they live in and how they are misled by successive governments.The lack of basic health cover for those who cannot afford private health cover is an absolute disgrace and an injustice which needs to be rectified.Which vested interests which make billions out of sickness are behind this,I wonder?!What has happened to American sense of community and compassion for their less fortunate fellow citizens?!Or was it ever there in the first place?

Debrah Roemisch
Debrah Roemisch5 years ago

Thanks James K--I agree with other posters--lots of green stars to you!

tiffany t.
tiffany t5 years ago

BS article and the number is much larger try 20 years at least if not cut people lives in half

Robert Miles
Robert Miles5 years ago

I'm seen starchy food mentioned as another way to gain weight, especially in diets high in both starch and fats - and both are common in the cheaper foods. Just ask a farmer how to increase the weight for animals to be sold in order to become meat; the answer is usually to feed them mostly grain for a while, and grain is high in both starch and fats.

monica r.
monica r5 years ago

Christine K I hope you outlive them all. I hope G-d blesses you greatly for your faithfulness, too.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

"First we do not have a health care system in the USA. We have a disease care system. There is no money in health only in fighting disease."

Exactly, and Big Biz is the one who CREATES the DISEASE and then they CREATE DISEASE treatment. They charge you $100 K to FIND the disease and another $100 K to TREAT it but never CURE it because there's NO MONEY in CURING IT. This is proven by the tobacco industry getting a firm grip when America was first settled. The tobacco industry has killed 50 million people so far and 160,000 women and children per year with
second hand smoke. All these people died a SLOW, PAINFUL DEATH. Yet with all this data to go on, they are still doing STUDIES because they AREN'T QUITE SURE CIGARETTES ARE HARMFUL! I guess they will have to STUDY this for 100 more years.
But they banned marijuana which has never killed ANYBODY and imprison thousands for a VICTIMLESS CRIME. My question is, why isn't somebody who kills millions behind bars but somebody who smokes a little pot rotting in jail for 30 years? The cattle industry got a firm grip in America from day one as well and got the whole world on meat which is clogging everybody's arteries and causing heart attacks, another example of CAUSING the problem and charging you your life savings to FIND the clogged arteries, look at PICTURES of them and then actually do nothing about it. Big Oil and Big Pesticide Companies have poisoned our environment and said it isn't THEM but it IS THEM. There is