Thursday, January 27th, 2011

The price of a longer life

What will provide a longer life? Money is clearly not enough. If economic growth automatically delivered longer lifespans, Americans would live much longer than they do. Over the past quarter century, longevity in the United States has grown slower than that of other developed countries with slower rates of economic growth.

A study by the National Research Council notes that between 1980 and 2007  life expectancy at age 50  increased 4.4 years for men and 2.5 years for women. This gain is nice, of course. But it is smaller than that achieved in a bunch of other countries, including several whose economies grew slower than ours.  Australians, Canadians and Italians are poorer than Americans, yet at age fifty they can expect to live longer than us.

The report suggests the reasons for our relatively slow gains include higher smoking rates 20 to 30 years ago, which have boosted our present death rate from cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. Another potential reasonis the nations’ high obesity rate.  I would also suggest looking at poverty rates. Despite fast economic growth, the incidence of poverty is higher in the United States than in most other industrialized countries.

Thanks to David Leonhardt at Economix for the pointer.

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