On average, if you are middle class, you’ll have eight fewer years of healthy life than someone who’s rich. Moreover, even if you are rich, you’ll have fewer healthy years than someone who is very rich. Sir Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association, says most of us believe it just affects the poor.
Marmot argues in his book, “The Health Gap” there are big differences between the average healthy lifespans of all classes. Middle class workers have a shorter life expectancy than their bosses, even high level executives are not as healthy as the CEO.
The middle class and lower wage earners tend to smoke, eat less healthy food, and experience crippling stress. Poverty in childhood has an effect on neural pathways down to the genetic level.
Stress can damage your physical health. There are many types of stress that we are accustomed irritability, anxiety and depression. These pressures affect people of all economic levels. However, this kind of emotional stress is related to the accomplishment life task. Emotional stressors tend to be acute in nature and are manageable. The key stressor that affects the health of lower wage earners is the feeling of no control.
It is the lack of control that holds the key to understanding how the health gap applies not just to the poor, but the middle class and even the rich. The lack of control over what happens in their life. We are talking about the pay check to pay check class. The working poor. Poverty does not drive stress, but social economics does.
As we continue the witness the widening gap of wealth inequality globally, everyone else’s sense of control will reflect in their stress levels and eventually their health. The executive might be ok, but if he or she sense that the CEO is demanding more control over their daily life, she or he will have a shorter life expectancy.
The solution is to create conditions where people have more control over their lives and decreasing social disadvantages. Marmot states, “It is not just about trying to improve the health of those in poverty, but to improve the health of all of us”.
Marmot, M. (2015). The Health Gap. New York, NY, Bloomsbury Publishing