Infographic: How Inequality Is Cutting Lives Short (2024)

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  • Global health

Longevity

Lifestyle changes are often touted as the ultimate tool to living a longer and healthier life. While there is certainly a lot of truth to that, a study analyzing large national and other datasets on mortality in European countries has found that the effects of social inequality also have the power to shave years off our lives.

The meta-analysis found that Europeans with a high level of education on average lived 42.7 years between the ages of 35 and 80 (a concept called partial life expectancy). Europeans with a lower level of education meanwhile only lived an average of 41 years in that time period, showing that social inequality was cutting the life of lesser educated people short by 1.7 years.

A big part of this difference can be chalked up to unhealthy habits and their consequences that people with a lower level of education are simply more often subject to, for example smoking - associated with a decrease of partial life expectancy of up to one year - and a high body weight - associated with a loss of partial life expectancy of up to six months. But factors that are not easily influenced with enough willpower and awareness to change can also influence lifespans negatively, according to the study. Low income was associated with a loss of partial life expectancy of up to six months, while few social contacts cut lives short by up to three months, as did having a working class background, defined as having a father who works in a manual occupation.

Infographic: How Inequality Is Cutting Lives Short (1)

Katharina Buchholz

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This chart shows the mean decrease in life expectancy between Europeans with a high and a low level of education.

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