Rich Americans Live 15 Years Longer Than Poor Counterparts: Study

wealth inequality america health life expectancy
A portrait of Benjamin Franklin on a U.S. hundred dollar bill. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao/File Photo

Wealth and health are intrinsically linked in the United States, with rich Americans living between 10 to 15 years longer than their poor counterparts, a study has found.

A series of five papers published in the medical journal The Lancet found that a widening income gap, structural racism and mass incarceration are fueling growing health inequalities.

"The USA is one of the richest countries in the world, but that reality means very little for most people because so much of that wealth is controlled by a tiny sliver of Americans," U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in an article introducing the research.

Sanders called for reforms to the healthcare system, which he described as "the most expensive, bureaucratic, wasteful, and ineffective" in the world.

"Healthcare is not a commodity. It is a human right," he said. "The goal of a healthcare system should be to keep people well, not to make stockholders rich.

"Medicare-for-all would change that by eliminating private health insurers' profits and overhead costs, and much of the paperwork they inflict on hospitals and doctors, saving hundreds of billions in medical costs."

The research found that the poorest 5 percent of Americans have experienced no gains in survival since 2001, while middle and high income citizens have seen their life expectancy increase by two years. The gap in life expectancy between the richest 1 percent and the poorest 1 percent now stands at between 10-15 years.

The studies were published as the new administration approaches its first 100 days in office, with the authors hoping they will highlight the urgent need to address the issue and prevent a "21st century health poverty trap."

"We are witnessing a slow-moving disaster unfolding for the health of lower-income Americans who have spent their working lives in a period of rising income inequalities," said Dr Jacob Bor from Boston University School of Public Health.

"Rising economic insecurity among poor and middle class Americans has led to the persistence of smoking and the rise of obesity and opioid epidemics, with adverse consequences for health and life expectancy."