The gulf between the haves and have-nots isn't just felt in our bank accounts, but in the remaining grains of sand left in our hourglass. Put simply, the well-off tend to live longer than those less fortunate, which is not a surprise. But a new study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine reveals that this lifespan gap has only gotten larger over time.
Researchers, using several sources of
More than 20 years separated the people born
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"These findings demonstrate an urgent imperative, that policy changes at all levels are gravely needed to reduce inequality in the health of Americans," said study author Ali Mokdad of the University of Washington in a statement.
The newborn denizens of Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota had the shortest expected lifespans, at 66.8 years, while people born in Summit County, Colorado could expect to live 86.8 years. In other places like Owsley County, Kentucky, a child born in 2014 could expect to live 70.2 years, while a parent born in 1980 would have had a life-expectancy of 72.4 years.
The states featuring some of the lowest life expectancies included many along the lower half of the Mississippi, as well as Kentucky, West Virginia, and the Dakotas. Colorado and California meanwhile had some of the highest. The researchers noted the lifespan gaps they saw were even higher than what was seen in other studies, a difference that might be explained by the more specific data they relied on.
The reasons for the lifespan gap are plentiful, they further found, ranging from disparities in obesity and smoking rates to socioeconomic factors like race, education, and income. In many cases, though, these explanations are interwoven with one another. Put together, they accounted for nearly three-fourths of the inequality seen between
On the bright side, the gap wasn't seen among the young, meaning infants and children weren't less or more likely to die depending on where they lived. That likely reflects the resources poured into securing children's health care. Because of that, the researchers are hopeful we can meaningfully bridge the gap in other age groups too, without necessarily having to pick and choose between addressing socioeconomic inequality and specific behaviors like smoking.
It may be the case that creating "policies that target inequalities in health may