New Research Correlates Poor Health to Poor Lifetime Earnings

We all know by now that making unhealthy lifestyle choices—like smoking, overeating, drinking too much and leading a sedentary lifestyle—can result in poor health. But a new study says that the resulting poor health can also cause a sizable dip in lifetime earnings.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) finds, that after tracking almost 1,000 working-age men, that those with poor health earned quite a lot less than those in good health.

In fact, the study finds that men in poor health can earn up to a third less than healthy men. Those who spent 16 to 20 years being unhealthy lost $4,000 annually, and by age 65, the gap between healthy and unhealthy men was a whopping $150,000.

The longer a man remained unhealthy, the more his lifetime income prospects decreased.

A survey from the Centers for Disease Control seems to draw parallels to education levels and health, too.

According to the agency’s National Health Interview Study for 2015, 27.7 percent of all adults who responded that they were in poor health also had a high school diploma or GED only, while only 6.1 percent of people who had a bachelor’s degree or higher reported being in poor health.

The same study revealed that among families who made less than $35,000 a year, 22.7 percent reported being in poor health, compared to 5.2 percent for those earning $100,000 or more.

The differences are stark, and the reasons for the disparity in earnings can often be attributed to the ability to be a productive worker, says Melita Williams, M.D., family medicine physician at Inova Family Physicians, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice.

“The productivity of a person that is healthier is likely higher than one that is unhealthy,” she explains. “There may be fewer days missed from work as a result of better health, as well.”

And the ripple effect of earning less could exacerbate poor health—especially if low-wage jobs equate to a lack of adequate health insurance.

“All things being considered, individuals that are employed full time [usually] have insurance, so the ability to see a physician for preventive care should not be an issue for either person (healthy or in poor health),” Williams says. “This would, however, be an issue for a person with poor health that was not insured through their employer, or if they were self-employed and had to pay for their own insurance.

“Not having the income to see a doctor for routine health care maintenance would not be as high of a priority for the person, compared to food or shelter, for instance,” she adds.

The NBER study also found that men who reported four or five unhealthy periods during their life by age 55 were more likely to be smokers and often had a higher body mass index, indicating that starting early with steps to adopt a healthy lifestyle is vital to both longevity and the pocketbook.

And even simple lifestyle changes can be monumental, Williams says.

“Eat healthy foods, drink plenty of clean water, get an adequate amount of rest, foster healthy relationships for social interaction and reduction of stress, and have regular movement and exercise,” she says.

If you’re in need of a primary care provider to act as a partner in your health goals, Texas Health Resources’ “Find a Physician” tool can help you find the right doctor for you or your family!

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