Americans have shorter life expectancies than their counterparts in other western countries largely because of health issues that disproportionately affect the poor.
As a result, not only do Americans have shorter lives than do residents of other industrialized nations, but there is a growing gap in the lifespan of the rich and the poor in the U.S.
A new report from the Brookings Institute found that a man born in 1920 lived an average of five years longer if he was in the top 10 percent of earners than if he was in the bottom 10 percent.
But for those born in 1940, the gap was even wider; the richest 10 percent live an average of 12 years longer than those toiling at the bottom of the economy.
What is driving the disparity?
Two obvious culprits are obesity and smoking, which are much bigger issues among the poor than the rich.
In addition, fatal accidents that are far more common in the U.S. than in the rest of the western world, such as shootings and drug overdoses, have an outsized impact on poor communities.
The Brookings study focused on the implications of the disparity on Social Security.
The report’s authors argue that attempts to save the program by cutting monthly benefits might seem like a fair trade off to the well-to-do beneficiaries, who are on average living much longer than retirees in past generations and therefore draw from their pension for many more years.
They may get less per month than previous generations, but they receive payments for more years.
However, for the lowest-income workers, who haven’t benefited from as great an improvement in life expectancy, a cut in monthly benefits likely means a cut in the overall amount they receive from Social Security compared to past generations.