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Rich People Live Longer with Better Health

Does money buy a healthier life? Does rich = health? Or does money buy happiness? It’s a tough, touchy and tricky question. In this post, Daniel Shin of The Darwinian Doctor will share his thoughts in this week’s PhREI guest post!

Take it away Daniel!

Rich health

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?https://www.youtube.com/embed/ECeIbGAwmPc?feature=oembedRejuvenation chamber? Someone please invent this. 

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 Americansevery year.   

Rich people get more years of life

Aside from these imagined cases, though, the actual data paints a far different picture. 

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.

This is 

Rich health, Income and life expectancy chart
Source:  The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy
in the United States, 2001-2014

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

This is likely a big contributor to rich = health. 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. In other word, rich = health. Over a lifespan, all these lifestyle differences can add up to an extra decade of quality life. 

Conclusion

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. 

Read a book about the Simple Path to Wealth.  Analyze your spendingCreate a financial plan.  Set some goals. Get on the path to a life of good health and intentionality.

Do you find this information depressing or inspiring? Does rich = health? Please comment below and subscribe for more!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected]

    4 thoughts on “Rich People Live Longer with Better Health”

    1. Interesting read. Have you thought about the possible flip side? Perhaps people who innately take better care of themselves, don’t eat too much and are more responsible are the ones who work more and become “rich” and are therefore able to afford better food medical care?

      Reply
    2. Thanks for sharing this, Jordan! I was really shocked that wealth was so strongly tied to longevity. I think we all have stories of the 99 year old patients in our clinics that never had a dime, but the research suggests they’re more the exception to the rule.

      Reply
    3. The most important factor that makes rich people live longer is higher intelligence, striving for knowledge (education) and strenght of will. It is very difficult to become rich if one is stupid, uneducated and and weak. The main purpose of intelligence is to predict outcome of one’s actions. The more intelligent is one the better is his/her ability to predict the most remote conseqyuences of one’s actions. Intelligent people understand much better the practical value of health, significance of preventive measures, extension of active period of their life and necessity to make sacrifices for the brighter future. Maybe it is not even strenght of will but profound understanding of of what is good and bad for your long-term goals that make avoidance of sacrifice not an option. Maintaining the “healthy way of life” requires the person making multiple sacrifices on daily baisis. Intelligent people are more likely not to save money buying healthy food and home sports equipment. It is also a fact that people who have to use their brain on daily basis (due tothe nature of their work) live ~ 10 years longer and acquire Alzheimer’s disease also ~ 10 years later. People who whork for as long as possible also live ~ 10 years longer. Longer preservation of clarity of thinking is supposed to enable individual to maintain active life style (work) for longer and facilitate making tough choices (diet and exercises) on daily basis. Regarding insurance. Because of my income I did not buy medical insurance for the last 20 years since I would have to pay for it 4 – 5 times more than my patients. I have bought the cheapiest $ 900/mo high-deductible insurance only in the beginning of Covid-19 epidemic. In modern US poor people are much more likely to have insurance without any deductibles than the reacher or self-employed ones. They just not in in a rush to use it until it is frequently too late or use their benefits erratically. No one with insurance has to pay out of pocket money for most important diagnostic/preventive tests and procedures as well as the most basics treatments until it becomes quite neglected case or cosmetic procedures. The absence of insurance made me approach the issues of health and prevention(!) very siriously. No matter how “good” one’s insurance is he/she can” enjoy” the benefits only when one is already pretty sick (I don’t know what nowadays “good” insurance means). I also suspect than reacher people live longer because they are more likely to live in bigger two-stored houses, which would make them to walk twice more around the house especially when their memory starts failing (my case).

      Reply

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