By Carole Fleck, AARP
The more money you have, the longer you just might live.
What's more, there seems to be a widening gap between the life expectancy of Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum and those at the lower end, according to research from the University of Washington and published by the Washington Post.
While life expectancy has risen for the nation - it was 78.5 years in 2009 - research shows that this progress has eluded lower-wage earners.
To illustrate that point, the Post profiled two neighboring counties in Florida: affluent St. Johns County, where retirees tend to live healthy lifestyles that include playing tennis and golf, and Putnam County, where incomes and housing values are about half that of St. Johns'.
Women in tranquil St. Johns County can expect to live to be nearly 83, four years longer than their expectancy some 20 years earlier. For men, it's 78 years, or six years longer than two decades ago.
In stark contrast, life expectancy has barely inched up for residents in Putnam County over the last 20 years. Women are expected to live one year longer to 78; men's expectancy grew by a year-and-a-half to 71.
Because of that gap, some public policy experts told the Post that raising the eligibility ages from 65 for Medicare, and from 67 for full Social Security benefits, would result in fewer benefits for lower-income workers who typically die younger.
"People who are shorter-lived tend to make less, which means that if you raise the retirement age, low-income populations would be subsidizing the lives of higher-income people," Maya Rockeymoore, president and chief executive of Global Policy Solutions, a public policy consultancy, told the Post.
A Social Security Administration study some years back also found that the life expectancy of male workers retiring at 65 had risen six years for those at the top half of the income ladder but only 1.3 years for those at the bottom half over the previous three decades.
Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, told the Post that life expectancy "has increased mainly among the privileged class." For many, she says, raising the retirement age would amount to a significant benefit cut.
But given the surge of boomers on the verge of retirement, some advocates supportive of raising the retirement age contend that government programs are only sustainable if taxes are raised or benefits are lowered.
Meanwhile, life expectancy also seems to be stagnant for some demographic groups, particularly low-income white women. A study published last week in the journal Health Affairs said that in almost half of the nation's counties, women younger than 75 are dying at rates higher than before. Women in the rural South and West, with less access to medical care, were hardest hit, the report said.
Photo Credit: Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford and Betty White appear on NBC News' "Today" show. (Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire)
Save Money, Save Your Life: Study Shows Wealthy People Live Longer