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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Finds Rising Income Inequality Tied to Gaps in Survival

The survival gap between the richest and poorest Americans is widening, with the richest 1 percent living 10 to 15 years longer than the poorest 1 percent, feeding the country’s growing health inequities, according to Boston University School of Public Health researchers writing in a special series in The Lancet.

“The rise in income inequality in the USA in 1980–2015 has coincided with widening inequalities in health and longevity. Not only do the poor have lower incomes, they increasingly live shorter lives than do higher-income Americans,” writes Dr. Jacob Bor, assistant professor of global health at BU; Dr. Sandro Galea, BU dean and Robert A. Knox Professor; and Dr. Gregory Cohen, statistical analyst in epidemiology at BU.

The SPH team reviewed studies assessing changes in survival gaps between Americans of different socioeconomic strata since 1980. “The literature points overwhelmingly to the fact that socioeconomic health gaps are widening in the United States,” Dr. Bor said. “This consensus is notable given current efforts to cut safety-net programs that protect the health of the poor.”

The researchers noted that since 2001, the poorest 5 percent of Americans have experienced no gains in survival, while middle- and high-income Americans have seen their life expectancy increase by two years. The researchers identify two distinct trends from 2001 to 2014: Poverty deepened, and poverty became an increasingly important risk factor for poor health.

Based on current trends, the gap in life expectancy between the poorest 20 percent and wealthiest 20 percent of Americans is projected to increase by nearly a decade in a single generation—rising from 77 versus 82 years for Americans born in 1930, to 76 versus 89 years for those born in 1960.

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