Tag Archives: life expectancy

Income, Life Expectancy and Social Security

We are well aware of the fact that economic status has a direct correlation to life expectancy. The rich are expected to live longer than the poor. Recently, though, the gap between rich and poor people’s  life expectancy has been widening. Especially for women, economic status is having a more significant influence over life expectancy each year. Interestingly, life expectancy for poor women has actually been decreasing by generation, indicating that it is not only growing at a slower rate than that of the rich, but that it is actually decreasing. An article from the Wall Street Journal, “The Richer You Are the Older You’ll Get”, outlines the results found from surveys conducted by the University of Michigan, and points to the complex implications this has on social security.

The data used comes from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, a survey that tracks the health and work-life of 26,000 Americans as they age and retire. According to the data, men of all incomes are living longer. But the data shows that the life expectancy of the wealthy is growing much faster than that of the poor. Looking at the graph below,  for a man born in 1940 with income in the top 10% for his age group, if he lives to age 55 he can expect to live an additional 34.9 years. This is six years longer than a man also in the 10%, but who was born in 1920. Men who were in the poorest 10%, can expect to live another 24 years, only a year and a half longer than his 1920s counterpart. That’s a huge difference. when we are talking about life expectancy.

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However, the story is different for women. While the wealthiest women from the 1940’s are living longer, the poorest 40% have a declining life expectancy from one generation to the next. ““At the bottom of the distribution, life is not improving rapidly for women anymore,” said Mr. Bosworth. “Smoking stands out as a possibility. It’s much more common among women at lower income levels.”” This is an interesting observation, which has some logic to it (smoking kills), but it’s hard to believe that this is the sole cause. I would also add that drugs play a big role here.

Looking at the following graph, we can see how life expectancy for the poorest women is declining, while that of men is still increasing (though not as significantly at that of rich men).

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Though I can’t immediately think of any explanation for this, it is worth thinking about. Perhaps the increase in cancers affecting women has something to do with it, but it is hard to tell.

Lastly, the article points towards the implications this has on social security. If people at the bottom are not experiencing increases in life expectancy (the graphs show predictions based on actuarial data), this means they are getting less social security benefits since they will receive it for less years. This might indicate that the retirement age should be lower. But then there is the case for those not in the lower class: for example, a wealthy man born in 1920 who retired at age 65, could expect to draw social security for 19 years. His son, born in 1940 and retired at age 67, could expect to draw benefits for 24 years. He retired at a later age, but he’s living longer. But this is obviously not true for men and women at the bottom. They would draw social security for less years, if the retirement age rises, and their longevity does not. Clearly, this poses a dilemma for setting appropriate policies as life expectancy rises (for all except women in the bottom 40%).

Growing Gap Between Grandparents and Grandchildren

It has seemingly become increasingly popular for couples to wait until their thirties to think about having their first child. There are many different reasons for this, whether it is to pursue a higher educational degree, to become financially ready to welcome a baby into the family, or to travel the world, among many other possibilities. Is there a problem with this trend to start having kids after entering into your thirties, and later? According to some experts, as well as the would-be grandparents themselves, there may be.

The parents of potential parents (a.k.a. the would-be grandparents) are becoming more and more worried that the relationships they have imagined having with their grandchildren are no longer going to be the same because of the growing gap in ages. New grandparents may be more likely to welcome their first grandchild when they are closer to age 70 nowadays as opposed to somewhere around age 60. And this could change a lot about the relationship between them. There are many benefits for a child growing up with grandparents that are very involved in their lives. “Aside from serving as an extra source of child care and economic support, grandparents often ‘form an alternative attachment to the child that can be very important to the child’s development,’ says Merril Silverstein, a professor of sociology at Syracuse University who focuses on aging.” So while it may seem selfish of these would-be grandparents to want their children to produce grandkids sooner rather than later, they definitely have a good reason behind their selfishness.

Economics have played a large role in the shift to later pregnancies for many. The fertility rate in the United States fell to an all-time low between 2007-2012, thanks to the Great Recession. Many women (and couples) put off childbearing during this time or completely decided against having children at all. “Combined with longer-term cultural shifts, including greater educational and workplace opportunities for women, this has caused the proportion of first births to women ages 35 and older to rise to nearly one in 12 today from one in 100 in 1970. (Overall, nearly one in seven children is now born to women in that age group.)” It is simply a different world that we live in now than the one that these would-be grandparents grew up in.

Luckily, with advances in medicine, the average life expectancy is up to 78.7 years for men and 81 years for women. Compare this to 52 and 56.8, respectively from a century ago and you’re looking at about a fifty percent increase in length of life for men and forty percent for women. This is huge. The more time grandparents can stick around to be a part of their grandchildren’s lives and see them grow up, the better. The one issue that this does not solve is the age gap. But I believe that if this generation of grandparents is able to live longer, they are probably (not necessarily, but probably) going to be healthier at any given age than previous generations were. That being said, they will probably be able to be as engaged in the lives of their grandchildren at age 75 as their own grandparents were at age 65.

In the end, it is obviously up to the children of the would-be grandparents to decide when they would like to have children of their own. And while there can be complications with trying to have children at older ages, that is a risk that they must be willing to take. I completely understand the argument from the would-be grandparents and I do believe that they can make a very significant, positive impact on the lives of their grandchildren, but we must adjust to the times. Things change over time and we must change along with them.