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Study Finds Link Between Where You Live And How Long You'll Live

The rich really do get richer.

It might come as no surprise that the wealthy live longer lives than the poor. But in an interesting twist, a new study says poorer people could reap longevity benefits by living in wealthier geographic areas.

Researchers spent more than 15 years looking at over 1.4 billion tax records, belonging to Americans aged 40 to 76, to try and gain a better understanding of the relationship between income level and lifespan. 

Some findings might not come as a surprise. The wealthiest 1 percent could expect to live anywhere from 10 to 15 years longer than the poorest Americans. Other studies have said this could be because of better general living conditions, better health care, and even better sleep. 

But what struck researchers in this new study is that the disparity wasn't just between the rich and the poor. They found that even among lower income individuals, those living in more affluent areas -- think San Francisco or New York -- lived longer than the poor in places like Gary, Indiana or Detroit, Michigan.

"There are vast gaps in life expectancy between the richest and poorest Americans," Raj Chetty, the lead researcher from Stanford University, told NPR.

The findings, published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, also found that the inequality in longevity due to income has grown over the years. Since 2001, two years after the start of the study, the top 5 percent of men and women gained over two years of life, while the bottom 5 percent added less than four months to their life expectancy, on average. So the "rich get richer" aphorism might just be true, in a way. 

But the geographical differences have led researchers to think there's something more to it than just income.

"There are some places where the poor are doing quite well, gaining just as much in terms of lifespan as the rich, but there are other places where they're actually going in the other direction, where the poor are living shorter lives today than they did in the past," Chetty said.

Researchers say the findings suggest that geography might play a role in promoting healthy behaviors, which explains why poorer individuals in wealthier places might live longer. Things like not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising are more likely the cause for the income-longevity link than just access to health care. 

The findings could serve as a heads-up to government officials across the country, reminding them that they could help their citizens live longer by promoting healthy lifestyles and running health campaigns.

 

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