Tuesday, April 19, 2016

inequality and death: increasing disparities

This post was written by Timothy Haverda, UTSA sociology major.

Recently, the New York Times ran an article by Neil Irwin and Quoctrung Bui, "The Rich Love Longer Everywhere. For the Poor, Geography Matters." In the article, CDC Director Thomas Frieden notes that, "There is a very strong correlation between income and life span. There are things we can do to change the life trajectory of people. What improves health in a community? It includes wide access to social, educational and economic opportunity.” Irwin and Bui point out that ways to increase this "life trajectory," as well as decreasing the longevity gap between between high-income and low-income residents, include higher rates of social spending for the poor, access to preventative health care, and campaigns to promote healthier lifestyles. 

Their findings are consistent with other research also recently reported in a New York Times article, "Disparity in Life Spans of the Rich and the Poor is Growing" by Sabrina Tavernise. While it is often touted that globalization and neoliberalism have given rise to increasing life expectancies in the U.S. (whether such things are a "net positive" for U.S. workers or workers in developing countries is a separate discussion), Tavernise illustrates the longevity gap between the poorest and richest is becoming increasingly wider. Furthermore, while life expectancies overall are increasing for men, poor women's life expectancies have actually been decreasing (see above graph).

Elizabeth Bradley, professor of public health at Yale University notes that these disparities are a result of economic and social inequality, "things that high-tech medicine cannot fix." Christoper Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, likewise agrees, "There are large swaths of the population that are not enjoying the pretty impressive gains the rest of us are having in life spans. Not everybody is sharing in the same prosperity and progress." 

Of course, "sharing" is that dirty synonym of "socialism," and if we aren't punishing people for being poor, what kind of country are we? One with life expectancies similar to developing countries, apparently. 

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