Smoking dominates other factors, including wealth, in shortening lifespans, reports a study by researchers from Georgetown University and the University of California, Riverside.
“Our results suggest that while wealth has a causal effect on mortality, it cannot compete with the impact of smoking. If you want to live longer, you better avoid cancer sticks,” said corresponding author Dana Glei, senior researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Population and Health.
The new study finds that the percentage of Americans surviving ages 65 to 85 was 19 percentage points higher for someone with at least $300,000 in wealth than for those with no assets. But there was a difference of 37 percentage points between those who never smoked and current smokers. Due to the way the data was collected, wealth was measured in 1995 dollars. $300,000 equals $558,000 today.
Wealth-related mortality disparity was larger than disparities by childhood education, occupation, income, or socioeconomic status. But smoking made the biggest difference of all the factors.
“Our finding confirmed that smoking shortens our lives and that abstaining from smoking may be cheaper and more effective for living longer,” said Chioun Lee, assistant professor of sociology at UC Riverside.
Glei, along with Lee and Maxine Weinstein, a professor at Georgetown University, used data from 6,320 participants in the Midlife in the United States Study, or MIDUS, funded by the National Institute on Aging to examine the effects of childhood socioeconomic status, education, occupation, income, wealth, and smoking history on mortality in adults aged 20 to 92 years.
In fully adjusted models — which also controlled for age, sex, race, marital status, health insurance coverage, employment status, and numerous health-related measures — the researchers found that wealth exceeded all other measures of socioeconomic status associated with the living past. 65 years. Mortality declined at higher levels of wealth, but wealth above $500,000 (in 1995 dollars) produced no further mortality benefit. This amount is now equivalent to more than $925,000.
“We already know that having a good education, a well-paying job and extra savings are essential factors that help us live longer and stay healthier. Among education, occupation, income and wealth , we found that wealth seems to be most important to However, beyond a certain amount, additional wealth may not yield additional years of life,” Lee said.
For smokers, however, the picture was much bleaker. Over the age of 65, the death rate for current smokers was three times higher than for non-smokers. Former smokers had significantly lower mortality than current smokers, but slightly higher mortality than non-smokers.
“Healthcare professionals cannot alter the wealth of their patients, but they must continue to discourage smoking. Wealth may be associated with longevity, but don’t smoke,” Glei said.
The open access article, “Assessing Wealth Disparities in Mortality Compared to Other Measures of Socioeconomic Status Among Us Adults,” is published in Open Jama Network.