Income Inequality Affects Your Life Expectancy, Especially If You're Black

March 31st 2015

Laura Donovan

Low-income people have specific stresses the wealthy and middle class will never experience, and a new study reveals another unfortunate truth: people in disadvantaged communities have a higher chance of dying before age 75 because of it.

The study from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute found the volume of low-income people passing away before age 75 correlated with greater inequality. 

Why it's worse for low-income African Americans.

Last year, UC Berkeley researchers found a link between income inequality and increased deaths of low income African Americans. White Americans experiencing inequality, however, were less likely to die, according to the findings. The researchers studied census data of 100+ metropolitan areas with populations of 100,000 or more with least a 10 percent African American population. Every unit increase of income inequality they measured resulted in up to 37 additional African American deaths. 

“There have been a number of studies that have established the association between greater income inequality and poorer health on a population level, but ours is one of the few studies to explicitly factor in race,” said research lead author Amani Nuru-Jeter, an associate professor of community health and human development and of epidemiology at Berkeley. “What is really important is the finding that income inequality matters for everyone, but it matters differently for different groups of people.”

The life expectancy gap between the rich and poor.

A 2012 study conducted by Ohio State University professor Hui Zheng found that income inequality makes a person twice as likely to die within the next twelve years. "This finding is striking and it supports the argument that income inequality is a public health concern," Zheng said in a release. This followed a 2008 Congressional Budget Office report that established an increasing life expectancy gap between wealthy and low-income Americans since the growth of income inequality over the past few decades. 

Why the U.S. is the worst place to suffer from income inequality.

According to the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook's findings, the richest 10 percent of people in the U.S. control 75.4 percent of America's total wealth, making the United States the most unequal country of all developed nations. By comparison, Australia, Canada, Denmark, and France have percentages in the 50s. People have a better chance of achieving income equality in Europe than they do in America.

Democrats and Republicans have addressed income inequality many times in high profile speeches. In December 2013, President Obama said during a White House speech that income inequality is "the defining challenge of our time." In 2011, Florida Senator and likely presidential candidate Marco Rubio also discussed inequality by insinuating everyone in the U.S. has the potential to be financially well-off, "We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots," he said. "We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves, of people who have made it and people who will make it. And that's who we need to remain." 

For more on the reality of income inequality, watch this video:


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