Today’s post reveals the startling truths about how the rich live longer with better health than the poor.
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I was going to originally write a post about how money can’t buy everything, with good health as a primary example. But as I researched for the post, I found pretty compelling evidence that I was wrong. So instead, below I present the argument that money really can buy better health.
Life’s not always fair
In the United States, we generally believe that everyone should have a fair shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I think as a country we do a fair job of providing liberty (at least compared to most nations). We do such a good job of this that we’ve had a hard time controlling the Covid-19 virus because of variable enforcement of masking and social distancing regulations from state to state.
I’m also optimistic about the power of humans to triumph over hardship and build a life of happiness and purpose. My own story and countless others show that it’s possible to recover from financial and life challenges.
But I’m beginning to become more cynical about that other essential human right: life itself. I’ve just discovered too much evidence your actual health and lifespan is affected very directly by the size of your bank account.
I know, I know, you’ve got some thoughts. So did I. Let’s discuss.
But money can’t change your genetic fortune!
You’re absolutely right about this. As of early 2021, you can’t just swing by the health spa and drop a wad of cash to erase genetic predispositions to cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.
That would be pretty sweet, wouldn’t it?
Also, you’re right that money doesn’t guarantee good luck. As I wrote about before, I diagnose far too many cancers in young patients with absolutely no risk factors.
Money won’t erase bad habits
You’re also right to point out that there are plenty of rich people who work too many hours, eat poorly, and don’t exercise. The image that comes to mind is the rich, overweight executive that neglects their health in the relentless climb to the top of the corporate ladder.
Unfortunately, their coronary arteries won’t care that they fly on private jets and bathe in Evian. Enough Wagyu beef and stress will eventually drop them into an ER gurney with a heart attack like 800,000 of their fellow Americans every year.
Rich people get more years of life
Aside from these imagined cases, though, the actual data paints a far different picture.
A Harvard study in 2016 confirmed what many suspected, that rich people live much longer than poor people in America. The actual numbers were staggering: the top 1% of income earners get 10-15 years more life than the bottom 1%. Rich women got 10 years more, and rich men got 15 years more.
Rich people live longer without disability
More recent data added more nuance to these findings.
Rich people also live longer without disability than their poorer counterparts.
Disability-free years are those quality years at the end of your life that you can use to enjoy your travel plans and grandchildren. It’s those magic years after retirement before frailty and chronic illness sideline you to the living room couch.
How much more quality life do the rich get?
This study from University College London was published in 2020. It found that rich people in both England and the United States got eight to nine more years of disability free life than the poor. That’s almost a decade!
The richest Americans in the study had over $900k of more wealth in the bank compared to the poorest group.
Why do rich people get more years of life?
Studies like these can’t usually answer the burning questions that come up as a result of conclusions like this. But there are some likely explanations.
Money = access to better healthcare
More money means that you’ve probably got good health insurance. And if your insurance won’t cover a medical procedure or treatment, the rich can just pay for it out of pocket.
Also, the wealthy have more reserves and job freedom to withstand the disruptions that serious health challenges can bring.
This plays out before my eyes every week at work. I see patients with the same diagnosis of prostate enlargement having markedly different outcomes depending on their socio-economic status.
The wealthier patients with plenty of sick leave at work can take the time to have prostate surgery if medications fail. Patients with less stable employment may ignore their condition for years until they end up in renal failure and chronically dependent on catheters for drainage of their bladder.
Money = access to better lifestyle choices
Another likely contributor to the study findings is the fact that money gives you the freedom to make better lifestyle choices. While Warren Buffet eats McDonald’s for breakfast every morning, it’s a conscious choice.
He can just as easily choose to only eat organic food, which lowers your risk of cancer by 25%.
But do you know what else organic food lowers? Your bank account!
When we switched to eating more organic food, our grocery bill went up by 30%.
Having more money can also make it easier to work out, take relaxing vacations, and invest in your relationship. Over a lifespan, all these lifestyle differences can add up to an extra decade of quality life.
To sum it up, evidence shows that money really can buy better health. The high income earners and rich people in our country live 10-15 years longer than the poor. Those precious years at the end of their lives are also higher quality, disability free years.
Some possible reasons we discussed that explain these findings are increased access to quality healthcare and better lifestyle choices. Basically, it’s easier to see the doctor and eat organic salads when you’ve got more money in the bank.
So what’s the takeaway?
It’s not so easy to snap your fingers and suddenly increase your income.
But there’s always something you can do to change the trajectory of your financial life. To start, take ownership of your financial future.
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