Earlier today, I referred to a recent study about inequality and life expectancy in the United States.
The chart above is from that study, “The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014,” published by (and now available for free in) the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The upper panels, which illustrate race- and ethnicity-adjusted life expectancies for men and women by income quartile for each year from 2001 through 2014, show that there was a much larger increase in life expectancy for higher income groups during the 2000s. (For men, the mean annual increase in life expectancy from 2001 through 2014 was 0.20 years in the highest income quartile compared with only 0.08 years in the lowest income quartile. For women, the comparable changes were 0.23 years in the highest quartile and only 0.10 years in the lowest quartile.)
The lower panels, which illustrate the annual increase in race-adjusted life expectancy by income ventiles, show the large discrepancies in the annual increases in longevity between men and women at the top and bottom of the distribution of income. (The annual increase in longevity was 0.18 years for men, which translates to an increase of 2.34 years from 2001 to 2014, and 0.22 years for women, an increase of 2.91 years from 2001 to 2014 in the top 5 percent of the income distribution. In the bottom 5 percent of the income distribution, the average annual increase in longevity was 0.02 years, an increase of only 0.32 years from 2001 to 2014 for men and 0.003 years, an increase of 0.04 years from 2001 to 2014 for women.)
According to the authors, here are the two main conclusions of this portion of their study (citations omitted):
The first major conclusion is that life expectancy increased continuously with income. There was no dividing line above or below which higher income was not associated with higher life expectancy. Between the top 1% and bottom 1% of the income distribution, life expectancy differed by 15 years for men and 10 years for women.
These differences are placed in perspective by comparing life expectancies at selected percentiles of the income distribution (among those with positive income) in the United States with mean life expectancies in other countries. For example, men in the bottom 1% of the income distribution at the age of 40 years in the United States have life expectancies similar to the mean life expectancy for 40-year-old men in Sudan and Pakistan, assuming that life expectancies in those countries are accurate. Men in the United States in the top 1% of the income distribution have higher life expectancies than the mean life expectancy for men in all countries at age 40 years. . .
The second major conclusion is that inequality in life expectancy increased in recent years. Between 2001 and 2014, individuals in the top 5% of the income distribution gained around 3 years of life expectancy, whereas individuals in the bottom 5% experienced no gains. As a benchmark for this magnitude, the NCHS estimates that eliminating all cancer deaths would increase life expectancy at birth by 3.2 years.
You read that right: U.S. men in the bottom 1 percent of the income distribution have life expectancies similar to the mean life expectancy for men in Sudan and Pakistan! And the gap between those at the top and bottom is growing!
What we have then is technical chart with a very important political message: now more than ever, we need a radically different way of organizing economic and social life in the United States—unless, of course, we want to remain at the level of Sudan and Pakistan.