Income inequality shortens an entire community’s life expectancy – project

Reuters/Lucas Jackson
Residents living in a community with high income inequality are more likely to have a shortened lifespan than those living in a more equitable community – even if average income at the two locales is the same – a new study on county health has found.

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report, an annual snapshot of county-level health factors in the United States, was recently released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute.

In addition to smoking and obesity rates, among other measurables, the report’s researchers found that income inequality showed a statistically significant effect on lifespans, coming out to a difference of around 11 days of life between more and less unequal communities, the New York Times said.

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“It’s not just the level of income in a community that matters — it’s also how income is distributed,” Bridget Catlin, the co-director of the project, said, according to the Times.

To examine impacts of income inequality, the report measured the difference between incomes of those in the 80th and 20th percentiles of each US county.

Then, using a custom measurement formula, the researchers calculated “potential life years lost” in each county through analysis of all residents who died before the age of 75, and the age they were when they died. Thus, someone who died at 74 had one year of potential life lost. They took into account how many older people lived in the county, as to not punish counties with an older average population. Higher-income people were not compared with lower-income people; only average lifespan was assessed.

The project counted five years lost per every 1,000 people for each one-point increase in the ratio dividing high- and low-income earners.

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For example, “the researchers compared the adjoining Park and Fremont Counties in Wyoming,” the Times wrote. “Both have relatively small populations and are predominantly white. Both include parts of large national parks. But the Fremont inequality ratio is 4.6, compared with Park’s 3.6. And, in Fremont County, there are 13 years of potential life lost for every 1,000 residents, compared with only 7.5 in Park.”

As RT reported earlier this month, wealth disparity in the US grew both for major metropolises and the country as a whole between 2012 and 2013. Major US cities, especially, showed major divisions in income levels, according to a Brookings Institution report.

Globally, Oxfam said in January that the world's richest 1 percent will have more than the other 99 percent by 2016.