Class influences us and manifests concretely in our lives.
By a commentator for Tjen Folket Media.
On May 13, the medical journal Jama published the results of a large research study. Researchers in Norway and the US have studied the cause of death of more than 400,000 Norwegians who died between 2005 and 2015. The goal has been to study the relationship between income differences and life expectancy. They have further compared their findings with a comparable study in the US.
The study can be read here.
Among the institutions behind the study is the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. On their own website, they have published an informative and simple article on the study, and here the senior researcher in the Institute and the first author of the study, Jonas Minet Kinge have said the following about the results:
The large and rapidly growing differences in life expectancy between the richest and poorest is turning heads in several professional circles, especially in regards to the fact that income differences in Norway are relatively small.
Large and increasing differences
The research shows that there is a direct relationship between life expectancy and income. A whopping 14 years (!) marks the widest gap.
The following comparisons are in regards to people in their 40s (see Figure 1).
The researchers’ findings among the largest gaps between rich and poor:
- Men in the top 1% of income have a life expectancy of 84.4 years. Men in the lowest income bracket can expect to live 13.8 fewer years. These are the men who have the lowest life expectancy.
- The richest 1% of women in Norway have the highest life expectancy. They have a life expectancy of 86.5 years. They will life, on average, 8.4 years longer than their poorest counterparts.
The above numbers deal with the top 1% richest versus the 1% poorest. When we look at the results at the quartile level, the difference between the richest and poorest 25% is 8 years for men and 6 years for women.
The research also indicates that the gap has grown over the course of the research period, between 2005 and 2015.
- Among the richest 25% of the population, life expectancy has increased. In this layer, the life expectancy of women has increased by 3.2 years, while it increased by 3.1 years for men.
- Among the poorest 25% of the population, the life expectancy of women has dropped by 0.4 years. The life expectancy for man has increased by 0.9 years.
The researchers have indicated an increased incidence of cause of death among the poorest as the reason for increasing gaps: heart and cardiac diseases, cancer, lung diseases, and dementia in the elderly population, and drug related deaths and suicide among the younger population.
As mentioned earlier, the Norwegian Institute for Public Health has written about the studies on their website. Jonas Minet Kinge says that
This is a descriptive study. We know very little on why the differences are so large and why they are increasing. Studies from Sweden and other countries indicate that it is perhaps not the money in itself that leads to those with larger incomes living longer. Among those with lower incomes, there are more and more living along, and more people with lower education status. Furthermore, access to health information, congenital traits, foster care and upbringing, and other environmental factors may be important.
We must continue to study the causes. Luckily, we have a research environment in Norway that has the competence to connect the data from the health register with income, education, and household data. With the help of these coupled registers, we can make a more detailed analysis than researchers in most of the other countries can, something that this study has also shown.