‘Money cannot buy happiness’ is a commonly used proverb. But according to a recent study, there is one thing that money can buy: A long life. Being wealthy adds nearly a decade to a person’s lifespan, reveals a new research conducted by professors at University College London (UCL). They found that those who are rich tend to live much longer and free from illnesses and disabilities as opposed to those who are poor. Data was analysed from more than 25,000 people aged 50 and over from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing and the US Health and Retirement Study. It was published in the Journal of Gerontology.
The researchers found that while there were no major differences between the UK and the US when it came to life expectancy, wealth did have a substantial impact on how many years participants lived for. The data showed that at age 50, the wealthiest men in England and the US lived for an extra 31 years in good health compared with around 22 years to 23 years for those in the poorest group.
Meanwhile, women from the wealthiest groups in the US and England lived for an extra 33 years in good health compared with 24 years to 25 years for the poorest. “Inequalities in healthy life expectancy exist in both countries and are of similar magnitude. In both countries efforts in reducing health inequalities should target people from disadvantaged socioeconomic groups,” the researchers stated. For the study, data was collected in 2002 and participants were followed for up to a decade to see how their health fared. Dr Paola Zaninotto, lead author of the report from UCL, said, “While life expectancy is a useful indicator of health, the quality of life as we get older is also crucial. By measuring healthy life expectancy we can get an estimate of the number of years of life spent in favourable states of health or without disability.”
Zaninotto added, "Our study makes a unique contribution to understanding the levels of inequalities in health expectancies between England and the US where healthcare systems are very different." The findings follow recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which revealed that Britain’s richest people are seeing their wealth grow almost four times faster than the poorest. Between 2016 and 2018, the data showed that total UK wealth surged 13% to £14.6 trillion, with rising property values and pension pots accounting for most of the gains. Meanwhile, the richest tenth of the population saw their wealth rise 11% while the poorest experienced a 3% gain.
“We found that socio-economic inequalities in disability-free life expectancy were similar across all ages in England and the US but the biggest socio-economic advantage in both countries and across all age groups was wealth,” said Zaninotto. “We know that improving both the quality and the quantity of years that individuals are expected to live has implications for public expenditure on health, income, long-term care of older people and work participation and our results suggest that policy makers in both England and the US must make greater efforts into reducing health inequalities,” she concluded.
The data also revealed that children born today are likely to spend a larger proportion of their lives in poor health than their grandparents. They will also benefit from substantially smaller increases in their life expectancy than those born a few years earlier, in the first decade of the 21st century. In contrast, the proportion of life expected to be spent in good health in the UK has decreased between 2009 to 2011 and 2016 to 2018, from 79.9% to 79.5% for males and from 77.4% to 76.7% for females.