Increasing inequality in life expectancy

March 23, 2008

In a New York Times article this morning, Robert Pear summarizes recent research showing that the gap in life expectancy between high-income/better-educated people and low-income/less-educated people is expanding substantially. (That is, life expectancy is increasing on average, but it is increasing much more rapidly at the top of the socio-economic distribution than at the bottom -- and some research suggests that life expectancy at the bottom is not even rising.) Increasing inequality in life expectancy may have important social implications. It also affects our public social insurance programs -- for example, it may tend to shift the relative magnitudes of the lifetime benefits provided byMedicare and Social Security(because on average high-income beneficiaries increasingly collect benefits over a longer period of time than low-income beneficiaries).

CBO is undertaking further work on this topic, and will be issuing a short issue brief on it in the near future.