Azara Blog: Rich people are healthier than poor people

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Date published: 2007/04/27

The BBC says:

The health gap between the lowest and highest paid occupational groups widens in retirement, a study has suggested.

A lifetime on a low wage physically ages a person eight years earlier than high earners, researchers found.

They followed more than 10,000 British civil servants aged 35 to 55, over a period of 20 years.

Physical health declined with age in all groups but most rapidly among those in the lowest occupational grades, the British Medical Journal reported.

The employees, working in 20 different departments and from all occupational grades, were surveyed five times between 1985 and 2004.

At retirement, despite leaving the civil service, the health gap not only continued but widened.

For example, the average physical health of a 70-year-old high earner was similar to the physical health of a low earner around eight years younger.

In mid-life, this gap was only 4.5 years.

Among high earners, retirement appeared to improve their mental health and wellbeing. But no similar improvement was seen in the lower occupational groups.

Although the researchers studied mainly white collar office workers, they believe the findings would be the same across other occupations.
Lead researcher Tarani Chandola, from University College London, said: "There has always been an assumption that the health gap gets narrower with age as people retire.

"But retirement does not level the playing field. These health inequalities actually increase. This is not a time to get complacent."

He suggested a number of factors could explain the differences they found - including lifestyle habits and income.

For example, a higher income might enable a pensioner to lead a more active social life and eat a healthier diet.

Hmmm, has there really "always been an assumption that the health gap gets narrower with age as people retire"? Why would anyone have assumed that to be the case? At a first guess you would assume that almost any process was linear, and it sounds like near enough that is the case here. The researchers also seem to be confusing correlation and causation. They are assuming that work position causes health outcome rather than the other way around or rather than something else. All they have really done is confirm the usual trivial observation that rich people have better health than poor people. So all in all, this was a rather pointless study.

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