Longevity gap between rich and poor expanding

Despite medical, technological, and educational advances in the U.S. over the last 50 years, the longevity gap between the rich and poor continues to grow, said Lisa Berkman in an interview on PBS NewsHour Weekend. Berkman, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, appeared on the March 13, 2016 episode. The program is part of a public media initiative called Chasing the Dream about poverty and opportunity in America.

At the center of the discussion was a report from the Brookings Institution that found a wealthy American man born in 1920 lived about six years longer than a poor man born the same year; but for a man born in 1950, that difference has more than doubled to 14 years. For women the gap went from 4.7 to 13 years, according to NewsHour. “People at the bottom—especially  women at the bottom—have had no increase in life expectancy over the last 20 or 30 years—none—zero. It was complete stagnation. Whereas people at the top experienced these enormous gains, somewhere between six and eight years,” Berkman said.

Among the reasons for the gap are fewer job opportunities, less job security, more job strain, work-family conflicts, and “the sheer hours of working,” said Berkman. Neighborhood violence, toxic exposure, and lack of access to healthy food and places to exercise also can have a role.

Berkman noted that one could live in a city and go a few subway stops into a zip code where there may be five or six years difference in life expectancy. “Where we live is a very important determinant of this growing inequality but it’s not the only one. We have to look at where we live, where we work, and probably how our families are constituted,” she said.

Watch the full interview: Disparity in the life spans of the rich and poor is growing