Save now, live longer: Every $50,000 of wealth accumulated lowers risk of death

Money may not buy happiness, but it could buy you a longer life. New research concludes that being wealthy can add years to your lifespan.

A study by researchers at Northwestern University shows that for every $50,000 of wealth accumulated by middle age, an individual’s risk of death drops. And for those who had stashed $139,000 more than a sibling, their chances of outliving them increased.

The study is based on 5,400 Americans tracked for almost a quarter of a century.

“One of the keys to a long life may lie in your net worth,” says corresponding author Dr. Eric Finegood, a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. in a statement.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic widened the wealth gap. Amid the misery, the number of millionaires in the U.S. rose last year by 5.2 million – to over 56 million. Mortality rates fell five percent for every additional $50,000 of net worth accumulated by middle age.

Moreover, the same phenomenon was identified among the 2,490 who were twins or siblings. Big earners were more likely to outlive brothers and sisters on smaller salaries. “A difference of $139,000 was associated with a 13 percent relative decrease in the probability of death nearly 24 years later, favoring the family member with a higher net worth,” says Dr. Finegood.

It suggests affluence leads to good health, rather than being a reflection of heritable traits or early experiences that cluster in families.

“The within-family association provides strong evidence an association between wealth accumulation and life expectancy exists,” explains Finegood. “Comparing siblings within the same family to each other controls for all of the life experience and biology that they share.”

‘Building wealth is important for health’

The first analysis of its kind used data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project, a longitudinal study on aging. Information on participants, with an average age of 46, was collected from 1994 to 1996. They were followed until 2018 by which time just over 1,000, almost a fifth, had died.

The study, published in JAMA Health Forum, used survival models to work out the connection between net worth and longevity. Factors of genetics and wealth were teased apart by dividing the men and women into subsets of siblings and twins.

In the full sample, having more money reduced mortality risk. A similar trend was identified among the segment of siblings. A person with more financial assets tended to live longer than a brother, sister or twin who didn’t earn as much.

“These findings should be interpreted through a broader societal lens,” says Finegood. “The U.S. ranks first in economic inequality among high income nations. Over the past 30 years, the gap has widened through policies and practices that have diverted a substantial and increasing share of wealth from lower and middle income groups to the affluent. Such redistribution may have implications for longevity patterns in the coming decades. Policies to reduce the wealth gap, if implemented, could be expected to generate substantial returns to public health.”

The results remained after taking into account previous illnesses like heart disease or cancer. They could impact the ability to accrue wealth due to activity limitations or healthcare costs. Finegood and colleagues re-analyzed the data using only individuals without cancer or heart disease. The outcome was the same.

“Far too many American families are living paycheck to paycheck with little to no financial savings to draw on in times of need,” adds senior author Greg Miller. “At the same time, wealth inequality has skyrocketed. Our results suggest that building wealth is important for health at the individual level, even after accounting for where one starts out in life. So, from a public health perspective, policies that support and protect individuals’ ability to achieve financial security are needed.”

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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