Spectrum Management Blog

By Tia M. Lee | August 6, 2015

Can Your Income Predict How Long You Will Live?

We all know that money can’t buy you happiness but apparently it can buy a few more years on this earth to search for what makes you happy.  According to The Health and Retirement Study conducted by the University of Michigan, there seems to a strong correlation between lifespan and income.  The study began in 1992 to survey a nationally representative sample of adults over the age of 50 in order to understand the dynamics of our aging society.  Since its inception, The Health and Retirement Study has provided an invaluable long-term look at the complex interplay of health, work, and economic status of Americans age 51 and older.

The chart below reveals an undeniable difference in the life span of men and women with lifetime earnings in the lower 10% of society compared to men and women with lifetime earnings in the top 10% of society.

20150805_Life_Expectancy_and_Income_ChartData used for this table was published by Barry Bosworth and Kathleen Burke with the Brookings Institute 04-08-14. 

Lifetime earnings dramatically impacted men’s lifespan on average by 10 years.  Women’s lifespans increased on average by 5 years, a lesser degree but still it is a meaningful difference.

One might be inclined to jump to the conclusion that the difference is due to people with higher earnings having access to better food, exercise, and/or better healthcare.  However, the survey took all of these factors into consideration.  Since health events are the most costly, let’s look at this one for purposes of discussion.  The participants were asked to report their health status ranging from poor to excellent and provide their expenses associated with health care.  Those reporting excellent health reported higher income and household wealth 3 times higher than households reporting poor health.  While poor health is limiting and expensive, the average spent by those households reporting poor health only accounted for a portion of the wealth difference between the healthy population and those in poor health.  On average, the cumulative effect of health issues was the loss of $62,000* in income and medical expenses.  This didn’t account for the dramatic difference in lifetime income or wealth accumulation.  Nor did it speak to the choices participants made prior to the age of 51 when they entered the study.  It is undeniable that income inequalities beget life style differences and accumulation of wealth differences. 

What creates higher income and greater wealth accumulation?  The answer appears to be the following:


The relationship between income and education is obvious but what might not be so obvious is the correlation between education and longevity.  The chart below illustrates how education impacts longevity.  Education increases income and longevity!

Remaining Years of Life for U.S. Adults at Age 25 by Educational Attainment -- 2005

20150805_Remaining_Life_ExpectancySource: Brian L. Rostron et al., "Education Reporting and Classification on Death Certificates in the United States," Vital and Health Statistics Series 2, no. 151 (2010): 1-16.


Hard Work

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, between the years of 1979 – 2002 the frequency of long work hours increased by 14.4% for the top quintile of wage earners, but it fell by 6.7% for those in the lowest quintile.  In 1983, the most poorly paid 20% of workers were more likely to report long work hours. By 2002, the best-paid 20% were twice as likely to work long hours as the bottom 20%.  

In conclusion, it appears as though 3 very important aspects of a person's life, education, income, and longevity are all a related.  The foundation is education which leads to higher income, mix that with a healthy measure of determination, sound decisions, and a smidgen of good fortune, and you have the recipe for a longer life.

*The study report recorded the loss was $37,000 in 1992, our figure was adjust for inflation between 1992 and 2015.


Topics: Health Care, Retirement, Tia M. Lee, Estate Plans