Wealthier Americans live longer, new report shows

Could the key to a longer life depend on your bank account?

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New data from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examining wealth, life expectancy and retirement security found that while life expectancies have risen overall throughout recent years, “greater levels of income and wealth” are associated with greater longevity.

The study followed individuals born between 1931 and 1941, finding that 52 percent of individuals from the lowest-earning group were alive in 2014 – compared to 74 percent in the top quintile. Earnings referred to an individual’s mid-career household income.

“Individuals whose households were in the top two quintiles (top 40 percent) of the mid-career earnings distribution were more likely than their counterparts in the bottom 60 percent to be alive in 2014 (ages 73 to 83),” researchers wrote.

Aside from income, sex, race and education levels also factored into longevity – women, non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics, as well as more educated individuals tended to have longer lifespans. Those conditions were controlled for in the analysis.

The research also showed a growing concentration in wealth.

While incomes rose across all groups examined, it did so disproportionately for the wealthiest quintile – the average income of households in the top 20 percent was $242,000 in 1989 and $398,000 in 2016. That compares to the bottom quintile, which had an average income of $9,000 in 1989 and $14,000 in 2016. Trends were comparable for changes in net worth.

Even within the top 20 percent – a disproportionate amount of wealth is held by the top 1 percent, the study found.

Overall, while wealthier Americans may live longer – people with characteristics typically associated with shorter lifespans also saw life expectancies rise, which is important as more Americans retire.

By 2030, for example, one in three Americans will be aged 55 or older.

The study found that Americans in the bottom 20 percent will rely more heavily on Social Security benefits as a source of financial security in retirement – compared to the top two quintiles of Americans who depend primarily on wealth.

Another thing that can have a serious impact on financial security? Debt, which also has an outsized effect on the lowest-income Americans.