Wealth Redistribution to Extend Longevity in the US.

TitleWealth Redistribution to Extend Longevity in the US.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of PublicationForthcoming
AuthorsHimmelstein, KEW, Tsai, AC, Venkataramani, AS
JournalJAMA Internal Medicine
ISSN Number2168-6114
Keywordshealth outcomes, Longevity, reduce inequalities, Wealth Inequality

IMPORTANCE: The US is unique among wealthy countries in its degree of wealth inequality and its poor health outcomes. Wealth is known to be positively associated with longevity, but little is known about whether wealth redistribution might extend longevity.

OBJECTIVE: To examine the association between wealth and longevity and estimate the changes in longevity that could occur with simulated wealth distributions that were perfectly equal, similar to that observed in Japan (among the most equitable of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] countries), generated by minimum inheritance proposals, and produced by baby bonds proposals.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This longitudinal cohort study analyzed the association between wealth and survival among participants in the Health and Retirement Study (1992-2018), a nationally representative panel study of middle-aged and older (≥50 years) community-dwelling, noninstitutionalized US adults. The data analysis was performed between November 15, 2022, and September 24, 2023.

EXPOSURE: Household wealth on study entry, calculated as the sum of all assets minus the value of debts and classified into deciles.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Weibull survival models were used to estimate the association between per-person wealth decile and survival, adjusting for age, sex, marital status, household size, and race and ethnicity. Changes in longevity that might occur under alternative wealth distributions were then estimated.

RESULTS: The sample included 35 164 participants (mean [SE] age at study entry, 59.1 [0.1] years; 50.1% female and 49.9% male [weighted]). The hazard of death generally decreased with increasing wealth, wherein participants in the highest wealth decile had a hazard ratio of 0.59 for death (95% CI, 0.53-0.66) compared with those in the lowest decile, corresponding to a 13.5-year difference in survival. A simulated wealth distribution of perfect equality would increase populationwide median longevity by 2.2 years (95% CI, 2.2-2.3 years), fully closing the mortality gap between the US and the OECD average. A simulated minimum inheritance proposal would increase populationwide median longevity by 1.7 years; a simulated wealth distribution similar to Japan's would increase populationwide median longevity by 1.2 years; and a simulated baby bonds proposal would increase populationwide median longevity by 1.0 year.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: These findings suggest that wealth inequality in the US is associated with significant inequities in survival. Wealth redistribution policies may substantially reduce those inequities and increase population longevity.

Citation Key13744
PubMed ID38285594
PubMed Central IDPMC10825783
Grant ListT32 AI007433 / AI / NIAID NIH HHS / United States