Greater Wealth at Midlife May Be Tied to a Longer Life
Study examines association between wealth and longevity within siblings and twin pairs
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Living a longer life may be tied to how much money you have made by midlife.
In the first wealth and longevity study to incorporate siblings and twin pair data, the researchers, led by IPR postdoctoral fellow Eric Finegood, analyzed the midlife net worth of adults (mean age 46.7 years) and their mortality rates 24 years later. They discover those with greater wealth at midlife tended to live longer.
The study, published in JAMA Health Forum, was co-authored by IPR postdoctoral fellow Alexa Freedman, IPR health psychologist Edith Chen, psychologist and IPR associate Daniel Mroczek, and IPR health psychologist Greg Miller. Additional co-authors of the study include researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, West Virginia University, Purdue University, and University of Minnesota.
The researchers used data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project, a longitudinal study on aging. Using data from the first collection wave in 1994–96 through 2018, the researchers used survival models to analyze the association between net worth and longevity.
To tease apart factors of genetics and wealth, the full sample was segmented into subsets of siblings and twins.
In the full sample of 5,400 adults, a higher net worth was associated with a lower mortality risk. Within the data set of siblings and twin pairs (n=2,490), the researchers find a similar association with a tendency for the sibling or twin with more wealth to live longer than the sibling or twin with less. This finding suggests the wealth-longevity connection may be causal, and it is not simply a reflection of heritable traits or early experiences that cluster in families.
“The within-family association provides strong evidence that an association between wealth accumulation and life expectancy exists because comparing siblings within the same family to each other controls for all of the life experience and biology that they share,” Finegood said.
The researchers considered the possibility that individuals’ previous health conditions, such as heart disease or cancer, could impact their ability to accrue wealth due to activity limitations or healthcare costs. That would confound any association between wealth and longevity.
To address this, they re-analyzed the data using only individuals without cancer or heart disease. Even within this sub-group of healthy individuals, however, the within-family association between wealth and longevity remained.
“Far too many American families are living paycheck to paycheck with little to no financial savings to draw on in times of need,” Miller said. “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,” Miller continued. “So, from a public health perspective, policies that support and protect individuals’ ability to achieve financial security are needed.”
Eric Finegood and Alexa Freedman are IPR postdoctoral fellows. Edith Chen is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Psychology and an IPR fellow. Daniel Mroczek is professor of psychology and an IPR associate. Greg Miller is the Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology and an IPR fellow.
Published: July 22, 2021.