Tuesday 3 May 2016 8:20 am

Rich people live longer than poor people ... and the gap is widening

"Money can't buy you happiness," some poor fellow once said.

It can, however, purchase an extra few years of good health, according to a new study from Cass Business School out this morning.

Read more: The North-South life expectancy divide

Researchers found that the difference in life expectancy between those of us who live the longest and the shortest is widening, for the first time in 150 years.

And the one factor that separates those at the top from the bottom? Money.

The "longevity gap", which measures the difference in how many years the longest-lived five per cent of people clock up compared to the shortest-lived ten per cent of people, stood at 33.3 years for men in 2010.

The oldest five per cent of men kept plodding on until they were almost 96, while the most unfortunate made it to just 62.


Bottom 10 per cent Top five per cent Longevity gap
Men 62.4 years 95.7 years 33.3 years
Women 67.3 years 98.2 years 30.9 years

The gap has crept up over the past two decades – from its lowest level of 31.6 back in 1993 to 33.3 in 2010.

For women, the difference was slightly smaller at 31 years, with one in 20 making it to the age of 98, but the gap has not changed in the last decade.

The statisticians who conducted the study said that stark differences in lifestyle choices between those in the bottom and top groups accounted for the gap.

Read more: How the career you choose dictates how long you live

"Men in lower socio-economic groups are the most likely to make damaging lifestyle choices," the report said. "They smoke more, drink more and there are periods in their lives when they partake in riskier activities."

Progress in public health gains throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries closed the longevity gap considerably in the run-up to the second world war, though the gains from the expansion of the welfare state have now run their course, the study said.

Longevity gap: Men

  1879 1980 2010
Bottom 10 per cent 39.7 years 56.6 years 62.4 years
Top five per cent 84.6 years 89.8 years 95.7 years
Longevity gap 44.9 33.2 33.3

In 1879, the youngest ten per cent of men did not reach 40, while the oldest five per cent lived to a ripe 85 years. A century later, those figures stood at 57 and 90 respectively. 

While the increase in life expectancy at both ends of the scale has continued to increase since then, it has done so with much more speed at the top than at the bottom.

Longevity gap: Women


1879 1980 2010
Bottom 10 per cent 40.6 years 61.2 years 67.3 years
Top five per cent 86.6 years 94.4 years 98.2 years
Longevity gap 46 33.2 30.9

Life expectancies for women have increased at a similar pace, though the gap between the longest-lived and shortest-lived has closed by around seven per cent since 1980.