Study Shows Being Rich Buys 9 Extra Years of 'Healthy' Living in US and UK
A new study that highlights the serious impacts of wealth inequality in the United Kingdom and United States suggests that being rich can add about nine “healthy” years to a person’s life.
The transatlantic study on “healthy life expectancy,” published Wednesday in the Journal of Gerontology, is based on data from more than 25,000 adults—10,754 in the U.K. and 14,803 in the U.S.—aged 50 and older. The data came from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS).
Although life expectancy for both countries has significantly risen over the past century, recent evidence has shown life expectancy falling in the U.S. and leveling off in the U.K. amid rising rates of disability and chronic conditions among older adults, the study notes. Previous research also has shown that Americans are worse off in terms of health compared to the British.
“While life expectancy is a useful indicator of health, the quality of life as we get older is also crucial,” said lead author Paola Zaninotto, an associate professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London and a member of the ELSA management group.
“By measuring healthy life expectancy we can get an estimate of the number of years of life spent in favorable states of health or without disability,” Zaninotto added. “Our study makes a unique contribution to understanding the levels of inequalities in health expectancies between England and the U.S. where healthcare systems are very different.”
With the exceptions of Medicare, which serves people aged 65 and older, and Medicaid, which serves people with low incomes or disabilities, most Americans are stuck relying on a private healthcare system, despite public pressure to transition to a single-payer program. The U.K., meanwhile, established its National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. British conservative politicians repeatedly have pushed for increased privatization of the government-run NHS, but such calls have sparked swift backlash.
Referencing other research showing an American disadvantage in health compared with the British, the study says that “since access to healthcare is not the only explanation for inequalities in health, cross-national comparisons of health expectancy can also help evaluating strategies adopted in different countries to help reducing health inequalities.”
“Other possible explanations for greater health inequalities in the United States compared to England might relate to a more generous welfare state system in England compared to the United States, including unemployment compensation, sick pay, housing policies, and social retirement benefits,” explains the study. “These contextual factors can in turn provide better psychosocial health and reduced stress, especially among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. It is possible that older Americans are exposed to more psychosocial distress, which has been shown to increase the risk of chronic conditions and early mortality.”
Along with acknowledging some of the differences between the two countries, the researchers also emphasize some similarities—notably, that “it is now well established that in the United States and England, there are striking socioeconomic inequalities, in both general health and life expectancy, with apparent socioeconomic gradations, rather than differences only being seen between rich and poor.”
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT