KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — Wealthy men and women in the United States and the United Kingdom live healthy, disability-free lives eight to nine years more than poor people, a new study found.
Researchers studying disability-free life expectancy rates according to wealth, age, and gender, in the two countries from 2002 to 2013, recently found that the biggest socioeconomic factor in predicting age-related disabilities among the surveyed 50,000 men and women was wealth.
They were looking for factors that could predict how long people lived before they started suffering from age-related disabilities, like being unable to get out of bed or cook for themselves, reported CNN yesterday.
By age 50, the wealthiest men analysed could expect to live another 31 and 31.1 years (UK and US men, respectively), compared with men of the same age in the poorest wealth groups, who could only expect another 22.8 and 22.2 years (UK and US men).
For women, on the other hand, the wealthiest women in the UK and the US were projected to enjoy 33.1 and 32.8 more years of good health, respectively, compared to 24.6 and 24.0 years for poor women.
“While life expectancy is a useful indicator of health, the quality of life as we get older is also crucial,” lead author Paola Zaninotto, a public health specialist at University College London, reportedly said in a statement.
“By measuring healthy life expectancy we can get an estimate of the number of years of life spent in favourable states of health or without disability.”
The study — Socioeconomic inequalities in disability-free life expectancy in older people from England and the United States: A cross-national population-based study — was published in The Journals of Gerontology yesterday, and claimed to be first to provide direct comparisons between older adults in the UK and the US of socioeconomic inequalities in disability-free life expectancy.
The study, meanwhile, found that the estimated years one is expected to live without disability decreased at the age of 60, 70, and 80 in each wealth group, but the socioeconomic gradient remained.
The absolute difference between richest and poorest, meanwhile, was seven to eight years at the age of 60, six to seven years at the age of 70, and three to five years at the age of 80.
Within each wealth group and at all ages, disability-free life expectancy estimates were very similar in the two countries, the study found.
The gradient in additional years of disability-free life expectancy is less marked by education in the UK compared to the US, on the other hand.
At the age of 50, the study team observed an absolute difference of five to six years between those with low education and those with high education in England, whereas the difference was nine years in the US.
At older ages, the difference between the most and least educated reduced, but remained significant. Within each education group and at all ages, disability-free life expectancy estimates were very similar in the two countries.
“Our findings have implications for policy makers interested in reducing health expectancy inequalities,” the authors wrote in their conclusion.
“Improving both the quality and the quantity of years that individuals are expected to live has implications for public expenditure on health, income, and long-term care need of older people as well as work participation in older ages.
“Furthermore, our results of similar levels of socioeconomic disadvantage in health expectancy in England and the United States suggest that in both countries greater efforts should be put into reducing health inequalities.”