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Last Updated: Friday, 7 July 2006, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Low earners 'live shorter lives'
A couple reading the Financial Times
Longevity is linked to wealth, the study says
People from poorer backgrounds are more unhealthy and die earlier than the rich, according a study measuring the link between health and wealth.

Poorer people in their fifties were 10 times more likely to die earlier than those who are richer, the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said.

That was despite an "even distribution in the quality of healthcare between different wealth groups", the IFS said.

The poor often have to stop work early due to ill health, the group added.

Social inequalities

For two years, researchers at the IFS and the University of London followed the lives of nearly 9,000 people in England born before 1952.

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) focused on areas including health, work, spending, receipt of healthcare, social participation and cognitive ability.

The study examined how each of these areas varies according to an individual's level of wealth.

Key findings of the study included:

  • Those with middle incomes and wealth were most likely to stay in work as they approach State Pension Age.

  • The rich typically took early retirement, often drawing a final salary pension. The poor often stopped work because of ill-health or disability.

  • Eight times as many people from the lowest income groups had trouble with literacy and numeracy than the wealthiest grouping.

  • Nearly a third of people aged over 75 in the lowest income groups could not afford to spend money on basic necessities.

  • Under the age of 75, the relatively rich reported better health and were less likely to suffer disease or severe pain.

  • Poorer people were more likely to be obese than those on high incomes.

Richer and poorer

As for provision of healthcare, the study found little difference in the treatment given to rich or poor.

"Few differences in the quality of healthcare were reported by wealthier respondents compared with poorer respondents," said Dr Nick Steel, of the University of East Anglia and one of the report's author.

"This suggests that healthcare for the interventions studied is provided equitably to those in need, regardless of socio-economic status, for those who have seen a doctor or nurse."

The study's authors noted that "less glamorous" conditions, including urinary incontinence, recurrent falls and poor balance, seemed to be less well treated than conditions that were of "greater public health importance", such as hypertension.

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