Are the rich really healthier?

If I told you that people of a high socioeconomic status live significantly longer than people of a low socioeconomic status, would you be surprised? Richer people also have lower rates of cancer and obesity while poorer people experience more infant mortality and cognitive degeneration as they age. When I first heard these facts, I admit that I was not surprised. I thought, “obviously it’s due to a mix of healthcare, lifestyle, and diet.” But, as I was convinced throughout an entire semester, it is not.

The palpable disparity in health between the haves and have-nots of society is not just due to the fact that the poor are more likely to smoke or unable to afford an $8 kale juice every morning. To prove it to you, let me talk about one monumental study — The Whitehall Study. In late 20th century London, researchers investigated the social and behavioral actions of thousands of government employees. They also monitored their health and mortality, following them over dozens of years. In order to find out if health was simply a matter of lifestyle choices, they controlled for dozens of risk factors including obesity, drug use, smoking, amount of exercise, and height. What they found was startling. Even after controlling for these variables, they found that people with the lowest income jobs, such as the janitors and doormen, had a mortality rate 3x that of the people with high income jobs. Similar studies have been conducted on this topic, and countries everywhere have found the same result: rich people are healthier and live longer.

So what is causing this huge difference in health between the rich and the poor? There has to be some underlying cause of this severe disadvantage in health… In my future writings, I hope to explore the past and current literature on this topic, something not completely resolved in the world. Perhaps it is due to stress and stress-induced high cortisol levels. Perhaps it is due to self-esteem and its physiological effect. Or maybe even education. More likely, it is due to a whole spectrum of biological, social, and psychological factors.

Okay, so now we see there’s a problem. But what can we do to solve it? Are there ways to close the “Health Gap,” as Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health Sir Michael Marmot calls it? It turns out that there are so many passionate people in the world striving to close the gap, and I hope to explore the methods and people behind the effort. I hope to be able to use my combination of health Psychology, the class where I first learned of this phenomenon, and my background working in hospitals to try and shape this issue for my readers.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane.” Although the racial discrimination Dr. King was referring to is very much alleviated, his quote still bears significance. There is still a great injustice in health and healthcare in modern society, and in all countries.