‘Wealth makes it easier to work longer’

A new study finds that wealthy people live an extra nine years free from pain and disability.

Older couple in bright clothing smile at the camera


The wealthiest men and women can expect to live an additional eight to nine years free from disability compared to people in the poorest groups – with significant implications for extended working lives, according to a new study.

The University College London study, published in the Journal of Gerontology, examined how long people in England and the US can expect to live free from disabilities such as being unable to get in and out of bed or unable to cook for themselves, and to what extent socioeconomic factors play a part. Data was collected from study participants in 2002 and they were followed for a period of 10 years until 2013.

The researchers found that socioeconomic inequalities in disability-free life expectancy were similar across all ages in England and the US, but the biggest socioeconomic advantage in both countries and across all age groups was wealth.

Lead author Dr Paola Zaninotto 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.

“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.”

In both countries, people in the study were divided into three groups based on total household wealth and comparisons were made between the richest and least wealthy groups.

The papers shows that at age 50 the wealthiest men in England and the US lived around an additional 31 ‘healthy’ years compared to around 22-23 years for those in the poorest wealth groups. Women from the wealthiest groups from the US and England lived around an additional 33 ‘healthy’ compared to 24.6 and 24 years from the poorest wealth groups in England the US respectively.

Dr Zaninotto added: “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.”

* Read about the occupational health implications of extended working lives here.

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