New research shows that the odds of Americans surviving ages 65 to 85 are 19 percentage points higher for those with assets of at least $300,000 than for those without. But there is a difference of 37 percentage points between those who have never smoked and those who currently smoke. Due to the way the data is collected, wealth is measured in 1995 dollars. $300,000 is equivalent to $558,000 today.
Disparities in wealth-related mortality are larger than disparities in childhood education, occupation, income, or socioeconomic status. But smoking made the biggest difference of all factors.
“Our findings further confirm that smoking reduces our life expectancy and that abstaining from smoking may be cheaper and more effective for living longer.” Chioun Lee, an assistant professor of sociology at UC Riverside.
Glei, along with Lee and Maxine Weinstein, a professor at Georgetown University, used data from 6,320 participants in Midlife in the United States, or MIDUS, research funded by the National Institute on Aging to examines the impact of childhood socioeconomic status, education, occupation, income, wealth, and smoking history on mortality in adults aged 20-92 years.
In fully adjusted models — also controlled for age, sex, race, marital status, health insurance coverage, employment status, and multiple health-related measures — the researchers found that wealth far exceeded all other measures of socioeconomic status in relation to living past age 65 .
Mortality rates decreased at higher wealth levels, but wealth above $500,000 (in 1995 dollars) provided no further mortality benefits. This amount equates to more than $925,000 today.
“We already know having a good education, a well-paying job and extra savings are important factors in helping us live longer and healthier lives. Among education, occupation, income and wealth, we found that wealth seems to be most important for longevity. However, beyond a certain amount, extra wealth may not result in extra longevity.” Lee said.
However, for smokers, the picture looks much better. Over the age of 65, the death rate among current smokers is more than three times higher than that of never-smokers. Former smokers have a significantly lower mortality rate than current smokers, but a slightly higher mortality rate than never-smokers.
“Healthcare practitioners cannot modify patients’ wealth, but they should continue to discourage smoking. Wealth may be related to longevity, but don’t smoke.” Glee said.