Yves here. This is a short but deceptively important post. The fact that life expectancy in the US is no longer rising, in a time of economic growth, is yet another sign of underlying societal decay.
There are underlying factors that should in theory lead to longer life expectancies, such as fewer smokers in the population. Similarly, cancer rates are falling. And we have supposedly better access overall to health care thanks to Obamacare.
But offsetting that are the rise of diabetes, and most important, rising income disparity and weakening social bonds. As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, income disparity has high health costs, even for the rich. From one of our very first posts, in 2007, quoting Michael Prowse in the Financial Times:
Those who would deny a link between health and inequality must first grapple with the following paradox. There is a strong relationship between income and health within countries. In any nation you will find that people on high incomes tend to live longer and have fewer chronic illnesses than people on low incomes.
Yet, if you look for differences between countries, the relationship between income and health largely disintegrates. Rich Americans, for instance, are healthier on average than poor Americans, as measured by life expectancy. But, although the US is a much richer country than, say, Greece, Americans on average have a lower life expectancy than Greeks. More income, it seems, gives you a health advantage with respect to your fellow citizens, but not with respect to people living in other countries….
Once a floor standard of living is attained, people tend to be healthier when three conditions hold: they are valued and respected by others; they feel ‘in control’ in their work and home lives; and they enjoy a dense network of social contacts. Economically unequal societies tend to do poorly in all three respects: they tend to be characterised by big status differences, by big differences in people’s sense of control and by low levels of civic participation….
Unequal societies, in other words, will remain unhealthy societies – and also unhappy societies – no matter how wealthy they become. Their advocates – those who see no reason whatever to curb ever-widening income differentials – have a lot of explaining to do.
Of course, given Lambert’s relentless documentation of the problems with Obamacare, you could also see the stalling out of life expectance increases as reflecting presumed continued gains for the better off, and the success of the neoliberal prescription, “Die faster!” for the rest.
By Bruce Webb. Originally published at Angry Bear
Life expectancy in the United States has stalled for three straight years, the government announced Wednesday.
A child born last year can expect to make it to 78 years and 9 1/2 months — the same prediction made for the previous two years.
In most of the years since World War II, life expectancy in the U.S. has inched up —- thanks largely to medical advances, public health campaigns and better nutrition and education. The last time it was stuck for three years was in the mid-1980s.
What does this mean for the future solvency of Social Security? Beats the crap out of me. But it sure casts doubt on all those who preach “demography is destiny” and “we are all living longer so work until you are 70″.
On a more mathy note small changes in input into Social Security models can have amazing effects on output, particularly over 75 year actuarial projections. Tweak some mortality and immigration assumptions and results change dramatically. We don’t even have to go the MJ.ABW. Though More Jobs. At Better Wages would itself have some outsized effects.