Strong opinions, weakly held

It’s good to be rich and well educated

Yesterday Ezra Klein flagged a study that shows that health insurance aside, the rich and better educated tend to live much longer, healthier lives than the poor:

The researchers ran the data two ways: High-income patients vs. low-income patients, and highly educated patients vs. less educated patients. Over the course of the study, the high-income patients were only 35 percent as likely to die as the low-income patients, and the highly educated patients only 26 percent as likely to die as the low-income patients. And the problem wasn’t that the low-income and low-education patients were hanging back from the health-care system. Because they were getting sick while their richer and better educated counterparts weren’t, they actually used considerable more in health-care services.

This study used a sample of 15,000 Canadians, all of whom have government provided health insurance. The short answer is that if you’re already undergoing medical treatment, things probably aren’t looking too great for you in the first place. Being well-educated prepares you to avoid unhealthy oatmeal. Having money and being educated enables you to avoid physically demanding jobs that often expose you to toxins that are likely to kill you.

If nothing else, this is a reminder that health care reform is necessary but not sufficient to make the United States a more egalitarian society, where the benefits of being the richest and most powerful nation in human history accrue to as many people as possible. Failing to provide economic and educational opportunities not only lowers the quality of their lives, but also shortens them substantially as well. It’s something to think about when you see people arguing that keeping taxes low for rich people is more important than preserving programs that offer some benefit to the bottom half of the income spectrum in the United States.


  1. The short answer is that if you’re already undergoing medical treatment, things probably aren’t looking too great for you in the first place.

    This is a little flip. The gap in health insurance is most dire in preventative medicine — heck, we had a kid in PA die from an infected tooth because he didn’t have dental coverage. I agree that applying greater understanding of health and environmental risks has to pay off to some degree, but being forced to live in more contaminated areas, have less access to good grocery stores, and get chronically inadequate preventative healthcare is a lot to fight with educational programs…

  2. Of course. I think I made that point in my post. Education is useful on its own, but it is also correlated with making more money, which enables you to afford things like dental cleanings, higher quality food, housing that doesn’t have lead paint, and so on.

  3. What I find frustrating is all the attention paid to Making Poverty Less Unpleasant and the general lack of attention paid to How To Have Fewer Poor People.

    The former seems to be extremely expensive and not very effective beyond the very basics – food and shelter – but has the significant advantage of retaining a large, poor underclass who won’t put pressure on wages. The latter is extremely simple and relatively inexpensive but would push up wages and result in less inequality, so we can’t even talk about it let alone enact it.

    So far as I can tell.

    You cannot eradicate poverty – as rich people love to point out to excuse doing nothing – but you can very much reduce the number of people living in it by heavily squeezing the income distribution at the head to substantially fatten its tail. It’s not that complicated. It’s just not what rich people want. And we always get what rich people want.

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