Economic Snapshot | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

Growing disparities in life expectancy

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This week’s Snapshot previews data to be presented as part of the forthcoming The State of Working America 2008/2009.

Snapshot for July 16, 2008.

Growing disparities in life expectancy

by Elise Gould

Rising economic inequality is often discussed as a significant social problem. Too often, that claim remains unsubstantiated. Why is rising inequality so problematic? What negative impacts does it have on our living standards? One compelling example comes from research on growing socio-economic disparities in life expectancy.

While life expectancy has grown across the United States between 1980 and 2000, the degree to which people live longer has become increasingly connected to their socio-economic status. The Chart compares life expectancy by socio-economic decile of the most well-off to the least well-off.

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Growing disparities in life expectancies in the United States, 1980-2000

In 1980, those with the highest socio-economic status had a life expectancy 2.8 years higher than those with the lowest status (75.8 versus 73.0 years, respectively). By 2000, that gap had grown: those in the top decile had attained a life expectancy of 79.2 years—4.5 years more than those in the bottom decile. Disparities in life expectancy also increased between the top and the middle decile and between the middle and the bottom.

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