Among the less attractive aspects of human nature are a fixation with what is rather than what can be, the tendency to limit the definition of success and desired outcomes to whatever the best of the present options might be, and a burning desire to tear down those who have more than you rather than work to create more for everyone. Even in an age of rapid, radical change driven by advancing technology, the vast majority of people focus entirely on the distribution of present assets and opportunities, giving little to no thought to the much larger set of assets and opportunities that we could create for tomorrow.
You see this in the vastly greater attention given to any evidence for distributions and correlations in life expectancy between populations today, and the tiny amount of attention and support given to the production of rejuvenation therapies to greatly increase life for everyone at a modest cost. Given the realization of SENS rejuvenation treatments, the first of which are already under development in startup companies, and most of which will take the form of comparatively low-cost, mass-produced infusions, ten year variations in longevity due to lifestyle choices or access to medicine will be swamped, made irrelevant and small.
The study shows that in the U.S., the richest 1 percent of men lives 14.6 years longer on average than the poorest 1 percent of men, while among women in those wealth percentiles, the difference is 10.1 years on average. Over roughly the last 15 years, life expectancy increased by 2.34 years for men and 2.91 years for women who are among the top 5 percent of income earners in America, but by just 0.32 and 0.04 years for men and women in the bottom 5 percent of the income tables. In addition to reporting the size and growth of the income gap, the study finds that the average lifespan varies considerably by region in the U.S. (by as much as 4.5 years), but that the sources of that regional variation are subtle, and, like the aggregate national gap, subject to further investigation. That regional variation in longevity does not seem strongly correlated with factors such as access to health care, environmental issues, income inequality, or the job market. "We don't find those to be as highly correlated with differences in longevity as we find measures of health behavior, such as smoking rates or obesity rates."
The researchers looked at 1.4 billion anonymized income tax filings from the federal government, and combined that with mortality data from the years 2001 through 2014 from the Social Security Administration. This represents the most complete geographic and demographic landscape of mortality in America. Among other things, the growth of the gap in mortality rates - by nearly three years - struck the researchers as noteworthy. To put it in perspective, they note that federal health officials estimate that curing all forms of cancer would add three years to the average lifespan. At the same time, the researchers are quick to point out that the findings cannot immediately be reduced to simple cause-and-effect explanations. For instance, as social scientists have long observed, it is very hard to say whether having wealth leads to better health - or if health, on aggregate, is a prerequisite for accumulating wealth. Most likely, the two interact in complex ways, something the study cannot resolve.
A new puzzle emerging from the study, the authors note, is that differences in lifespan exist along the entire continuum of wealth in the U.S.; it is not as if, say, the top 10 percent of earners cluster around identical average lifespans. "As you go up in the income distribution, life expectancy continues to increase, at every point." And then there are the new geographic patterns in the findings. For instance: Eight of the 10 states with the lowest life expectancies for people in the bottom income quartile form a contiguous belt, curving around from Michigan through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. So while average lifespans for everyone are lower in some Southern states, the poor do not fare worse in those places than they do in other regions. "The Deep South is the lowest-income area in America, but when we're looking at life expectancy conditional on having a low income, it's not worse to be poor in the Deep South than it is in other areas of America. It's just that there are far more poor people living in the South."