It's easy to see why a woman who makes more money over the course of a lifetime would live longer than a woman who spent her life in or close to poverty, but the difference is bigger than you'd expect — and it's getting worse. According to a new report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, rich women will live more than 13 years longer than poor women, and according to Buzzfeed News, poor women born in 1960 are dying around four years younger than women born in 1930. The report focused on what the disparity could mean for U.S. programs like Social Security and Medicare, but that is only one reason that the life-span gap should worry us. Wealth and income inequality have increased sharply in the past 30 years, and more people than ever are struggling to find stable jobs that pay enough to cover basic expenses and health care. Americans at the very top of the scale are earning more than ever, but those at the bottom of the economic spectrum are actually worse off than they were last year.
It's expensive to be poor. Many people who live in poverty can't get bank accounts, which means they have to rely on check cashing and pay day loan companies that charge high fees. It's also hard to eat well thanks to food deserts, which makes health problems more likely. And the unpredictable work hours of low-wage jobs and inconsistent public transportation systems add huge amounts of stress to things many of us take for granted. When very wealthy people live longer, they collect more money over the course of their lives, even if they already have more than enough to live comfortably, pay for their health care, and provide for their families after they're gone. The poorer people who die early are paying for something that won't help them, and that money goes to the rich. There's a good reason for young women to worry about this: Most candidates running for president believe that changes should be made to the federal benefits programs that this report examined. And the report supports making cuts, too, even though dismantling the system could leave millions of elderly people in poverty. That would have lasting impacts on parents and grandparents — and the generation of women just starting their careers.