It’s easy to think of good healthcare as being the key to a long, healthy life. But socioeconomic circumstances often play a far bigger role in life expectancy than access to high-quality healthcare. Consider the strong relationship between socioeconomic circumstances and life expectancy in Norway, a place where healthcare access is universal.
Let’s start with money. People who make less money live shorter lives, a relationship that is especially strong for men. As the following picture shows, people with lower incomes (on the left side of the graph) experience dramatically shorter life expectancies. Poor men are lucky to live to age 70, while wealthy women typically live more than a decade and ½ longer:
The effect of income on life expectancy depends on education. If you are poor and only have a high school education, that’s a life expectancy double-whammy. Here’s the picture for men, showing how low education and low income combine to increase their mortality rates:
Promoting health is not just about improving healthcare. To help people live better and longer, we need to reduce income inequality and improve people’s educational opportunities.