Is There a Link Between Earning More and Living Longer?

Is There a Link Between Earning More and Living Longer?

How does income impact your health? If you earn more, are you healthier? How do adverse childhood events impact your life as you develop as an adult?

In this article, we’re going to cover all of the above and more.

In a study done by Steven H. Woolf titled “How Are Income and Wealth Linked to Health and Longevity”, he covers the topic in great depth and shares some insightful findings.

After you’re done read Woolf’s article, you’ll learn:

  • What role poverty plays in poor health.
  • How ACEs (adverse childhood events) impact life as an adult.
  • How earning more influences a healthier life.

How are poverty and poor health linked?

Poor health and poverty have been closely linked since the beginning of time. Not only is poverty a cause of poor health, but it’s also a consequence.

Some contributing factors of poverty and poor health include:

  • Political factors.
  • Economical injustice.
  • Social factors.

All of these can significantly impact how long (or short) we live. Let’s look at how specifically poverty impacts poor health:

Low-income adults have a higher risk of disease 

Poor adults are nearly five times more likely to be in poor health than adults with incomes lower than that of the federal poverty level ($37,000 a year for a family of four is the current federal poverty level), and they are three times more likely to have activity limitations because of chronic illness.

Americans with lower incomes tend to have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other types of disorders compared to their wealthier counterparts. 

For example, according to a National Health Survey, if your annual family income is less than $35,000, you are 22.8 percent more likely to be in poor health. Whereas, if your annual family income is $100,000 or more, you are only 5.6 percent likely to report poor health.

Not only is income linked to adult health, children’s health and infant mortality are also heavily impacted by family income and their mother’s education level. 

Children born into poverty are also four times more likely to be unhealthier than those families above the federal poverty level. 

For instance, children in lower-earning families experience asthma, hearing issues, heart problems, digestive problems, and more. 

From 2006-2008, the likelihood of children in higher-income families to experience asthma was 8.2 percent, whereas poorer children were 11.7 percent. Poor Hispanic children were 3 more times that, at a staggering 23.3 percent.

Poor children are a lot more likely to develop obesity, which is a strong predictor of obesity in their adult years.

One in four adults from families with earnings less than $35,000 smoke (27.3 percent), compared to adults who earn more than $100,000 or more, came in at only 9.2 percent.

Obesity rates were also higher for low-income families at 31.9 percent versus 21.2 percent for families earning over $100,000. This is due to the lower levels of physical activity with low-income families report getting enough exercise 36 percent of the time against higher-income families at 60 percent.

Does income affect mental health?

Not only is income directly linked to physical health, but it’s also linked to mental health. Those earning less than $35,000 annually reported feelings of anxiety or nervousness and five times more likely to report feeling sad.

That isn’t feeling sad “every once in a while”, this refers to feeling sad “all or most of the time”.

The sickness and distress caused due to stress and depression also occur more often among people with less income. 

For example, those earning less than $35,000 report feelings of sadness 6.4 percent of the time. Whereas, those earning more than $100,000 report feelings of sadness 1.2 percent of the time. 

Is how long you live tied to your income?

In general, the less you earn, the shorter your life expectancy.

Once adults reach age 25, depending on where you fall on the income distribution, those on the higher end of the spectrum can expect to live 6.0 years more than those earning less (1.3 years). 

Not only is income tied to how long individuals live, but it also applies to communities. If we take Virginia’s Fairfax County, which is one of the richest counties in the United States of America, and West Virginia’s McDowell County, which is one of the poorest, they are only 350 miles apart, however, the difference in life expectancy is substantial.

In Fairfax, the life expectancy is 82 years and 85 years for women, which is on par with Sweden. In McDowell County, it has the same life expectancy of Iraq at 64 years for men and 73 for women.

How does having a higher income influence your health?

So how does income influence your health?

Having a higher income supports living a healthy lifestyle because wealthier families have the resources that protect and improve health. Those who earn more tend to have stable jobs, benefits like health care, paid holidays, insurance, and wellness programs. 

Families who earn more naturally have higher disposable incomes and can afford healthcare and a lifestyle that supports longevity. 

Gym memberships

Families with higher disposable incomes can afford to invest in their health like having a gym membership. For those who earn less than $35,000, this may be seen as a luxury. However, with those who have more to spend, see it as a necessity. 


Another way that earning more influences your health is by having access to healthier foods. Residents of poorer neighborhoods have limited resources and options to choose from and often turn to fast food as it is a cheaper alternative than organic foods (Look up the term “food deserts”). Whereas, affluent communities provide large supermarkets and even farmers’ markets where fresh produce is supplied weekly.

Doctor visits

Trips to the doctor’s office can be expensive. Especially, for those with lower incomes. Often, poorer families will be faced with difficult choices like making a trip to a doctor or putting food on the table.

Poorer families will not be able to afford necessary trips to the doctors resulting in chronic illness developing. Wealthier families will have the resources to do both, which means they can mitigate any risks caused by developing illnesses.  


Those with limited resources experience a lower quality of life in terms of housing. Homelessness is common and many people are at a high risk of health issues due to exposure to dust mites and other indoor pollutants.


Another factor that influences your health is transportation. Those with lower incomes tend to rely on public transportation to get to work and travel to supermarkets for food.

This can also play a massive role in the health of individuals as colds and flus can come from such enclosed and busy spaces, especially during the winter months. Higher earners have the luxury of driving in a car and isolating themselves from large gatherings. 


Low-income residential areas discourage pedestrian activity, which further segregates the affluent areas from lower-income neighborhoods. This cycle means that governments tend to avoid investing in these areas leading to crime and lack of opportunities.

Adverse childhood events

Finally, another important factor that influence health is ACEs. 

If a child experiences trauma early in life, they are much more likely to develop unhealthy behaviors in their adult life.

Some of these unhealthy behaviors include:

  • Smoking.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Drug abuse.
  • Psychological outcomes like depression or suicide.

All of these increase the likelihood of physical illness and are directly tied to the income of the children’s parents.

If a child experiences four or more ACEs, they are twice as likely to have heart disease and unemployment is twice as high in adults with four or more ACEs at 13.2%.

Not only is income a predictor of longevity, but the same also holds true for the health and survival of their children, which rely heavily on the income of their parents.

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