Your Income Affects Your Health — And Your Family's Health Too

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
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In 2017, the average US life expectancy was around 80 years, according to CNN. But that’s for Americans overall. In 2016, CNN reported that researchers found that men in the top 1% in terms of income live an average of around 87 years — while those in the bottom 1% live 15 years less. The richest women live to be 89, the poorest about 79 years.

Your income affects how long you’ll live. It directly affects your health. Researchers in 2016 claimed that it wasn’t the money, saying life expectancy was affected by “education, health, and lifestyle behaviors.” But who’s more likely to be highly educated? Who’s more likely to have the money to eat well? Who’s less likely to smoke or be obese?

Folks with money, that’s who. Data and studies confirm it. Income affects life expectancy, period.

Almost worse is the way income affects a person’s quality of life. CNN says that after age 50, the richest men average another 31 healthy years of life. The poorest men, on the other hand? After age 50, they can only expect another 22 or 23 years. That’s an eight year difference. Eight years in which someone could be dependent on medication, affected by mobility issues, ravaged by dementia, or in need of constant care. Eight years in which someone can expect to live an independent life. It’s not affected by education or lifestyle. Income affects it. The richest women get another 33 healthy years. The poorest? 24 years. For women, the gap, then, is even larger.

If income affects one person’s quality of life, it affects the whole family’s.

How Income Affects Children’s Health

As the CDC says, those at, near, or below the federal poverty level are about twice as likely to smoke than those earning double the federal poverty level in America. The first group is also likely to smoke for twice as long. And they not only have higher rates of lung cancer, but they generally also have less access to good health care — which means they’re diagnosed at “later stages of diseases and conditions.”

This means that those who make less money are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke, says the CDC — and therefore more likely to suffer its ill effects. A child’s exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the CDC, can cause “more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).” They attribute 1,000 infant deaths a year to smoking during pregnancy. Smoking, heavily influenced by income, affects the health of children in the family — not to mention any partners who may be exposed to secondhand smoke.

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According to, 23.5 million Americans in low-income areas live in so-called “food deserts”: places where access to fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean meat is difficult because grocery stores are too far away. Food deserts put people at a disadvantage when it comes to nutrition, which impacts health.

The CDC also reports that children who are living “at or below the federal poverty level” are more likely to experience lead poisoning than more affluent children. Lead exposure can damage the brain and the entire nervous system. It can slow a child’s growth, cause “behavioral and learning problems,” and affect a child’s hearing and speech. It leads to lower IQ scores and “underperformance” in school. Income affects children’s chances of not only being exposed to lead, but from suffering the negative consequences of it.

It Affects Caregivers As Well

Caregivers, or people who take care of a family member or relative with an illness or disability, include almost a third of all American adults, according to the American Psychological Association. states bluntly that, “The lower the income and education a person has, the more likely he or she is a caregiver.”

Income affects whether or not someone is a caregiver — and caregiving affects the caregiver’s health. They may experience “caregiver stress,” according to the Office of Women’s Health, which can cause depression and anxiety. They’re more likely to have weakened immune systems and suffer from a higher rate of chronic diseases. In other words, caregiving is stressful, and stress causes negative health outcomes. The lower your income and education level, the more likely you are to be a caregiver. Income affects the health not only then of a person’s life expectancy and the number of healthy years they’re likely to have, but also the health of those who care for them.

Income affects health — one’s own health and the health of the entire family. Those living in poverty or struggling financially suffer disproportionately from any number of negative health outcomes, children and adults alike. And without things like better access to health care, more flexible working hours, a higher minimum wage, and improvement in living conditions, poor Americans will continue to suffer disproportionately.

Unfortunately, as it stands, in America, when it comes to a family’s health, income affects everything.

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