Geography’s Role in the Life Expectancy of the Poor

An important new study shows that the poor in some cities, like New York and San Francisco, live longer than those with similar incomes in places like Detroit and Oklahoma City. The findings could help local and state governments figure out what they can do, or do better, to help people live longer and healthier lives.

Researchers long ago found that the rich tend to live longer than the poor. What’s striking about the new research, which was published last week inThe Journal of the American Medical Association, is that where people live also makes a big difference. For example, 40-year-old New Yorkers who are in the bottom 25 percent of Americans by income have a life expectancy of 81.8, while 40-year-old Detroit residents in the bottom 25 percent have a life expectancy of 77.7.

There are several possible explanations for these gaps, but the study shows that where local government spending is higher, there is clearly a higher life expectancy for the poor. The cities where the poor fared better had low rates of smoking and obesity, which are leading causes of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. That, too, might be influenced by government actions. Residents in cities like New York and states like California that have banned smoking in bars and restaurants, raised tobacco taxes or restricted artificial trans fats tend to have higher life expectancies.

– The New York Times

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