America's poor die much younger than its rich, but the gap is smaller in New York City

Life Expectancy Varies Based on Your Income

Men at the top of the American income ladder now live 15 years longer than those at the bottom. That gap has grown since the turn of the century, with the top one percent gaining three years in life expectancy since 2001. Over that same period, low-income Americans saw their life expectancy stagnate along with their wages. Today, men in the bottom one percent live about as long as the average man in Sudan.

These are among the most alarming findings in a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association on the correlation between income and longevity in the United States. But the paper's most novel discovery is also its most hopeful: Low-income Americans who live in economically diverse urban areas live nearly as long as their middle-class peers.

In New York City, the life expectancy for 40-year-olds with household incomes below $28,000 is 82 years. In the Corpus Christi region of Texas, such Americans can expect to be dead by 77. The poor in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Birmingham, Alabama, live nearly as long as their wealthy neighbors. Elsewhere, across vast stretches of rural America, the poor are dying even younger than they used to. These findings echo those of a recent Washington Post analysis, which showed a growing gap between health outcomes in urban and rural America.

What makes these studies hopeful is the implication that the life-expectancy gap between rich and poor Americans can be narrowed, even if the income gap continues to widen. To be sure, income inequality remains a threat to our democracy and economic growth, and combating it should be a top priority of public policy. But because the causes of economic inequality are structural and varied — and because the wealthy exert outsize influence over our (dysfunctional) political system — it's welcome news that poor people in municipalities as unequal as New York City are, nonetheless, living longer.

"You want to think about this problem at a more local level than you might have before," the study's lead author, Stanford economist Raj Chetty, told the New York Times. "You don't want to just think about why things are going badly for the poor in America. You want to think specifically about why they're going poorly in Tulsa and Detroit," he said, naming two cities where life expectancy among the poor is especially low.

So why are things going badly in such places? Surprisingly, an area's unemployment rate had little correlation with the longevity of its poor. Likewise, a region's rate of Medicare spending wasn't correlated with longer life spans among low-income residents. Instead, the key correlates for a low life-expectancy gap were high population density, high concentration of college graduates, and high local government spending.

Why such characteristics correlate with better outcomes for the poor is not clear. The primary determinant of life expectancy for all human beings is behavior: People who don't smoke, eat healthy, and exercise tend to live longer than those who don't. In an interview with NPR, Chetty speculated that highly educated, high-density cities tend to encourage healthier lifestyles, via smoking bans, or else simply through setting healthier behavioral norms.

There is abundant evidence that unhealthy behaviors proliferate in areas of concentrated poverty. One of the paper's authors referred to the stretch of rural America where life expectancy among the poor is lowest as the "drug overdose belt," in an interview with the Times. A map showing where the opioid epidemic has been most concentrated would look roughly identical to one showing where the poor die youngest.

Obviously, combating known threats to public health, like alcohol and opiate addiction, would improve the health outcomes of the poor. But it seems that low-income people are far less susceptible to unhealthy behaviors when they live in areas with more "nanny state" regulations and yuppies toting Whole Foods bags.

In the city and suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, the life expectancy for adults in the bottom 25 percent rose 3.8 years for men and 2.2 years for women since 2001. Over that same period, the city banned smoking in restaurants and workplaces, while local philanthropies funded health-education campaigns, the Times reports.

The growing disparity between the average life spans of rich and poor Americans underlines the need for drastic action to combat runaway economic inequality. But until such action is taken, urbanization and smoking bans may be the best tools we have for keeping life's "golden years" from becoming the exclusive property of those with gold in the bank.

Related: 20 unusual ways to make quick money:

20 unusual ways to make quick money
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America's poor die much younger than its rich, but the gap is smaller in New York City

Dog-sitting, babysitting, or house-sitting

These jobs are always in high demand, and the best part: you can name your price and create your own schedule! Post an ad on craigslist, or use your friends' and family's connections to get your name out there. 

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Rent out your space 

List your apartment on Airbnb or another rental site, and make some easy cash by staying at a friends and renting out your place for the weekend.

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Share your space

Just as you can rent out your full apartment or house, you can also post a free room (or even just your couch!) on sites like Craigslist or Airbnb. This way you can split your living expenses -- and maybe even make a new friend!

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Sell your body parts

Now here's a weird one: Donate your hair, breast milk, or even plasma for a profit. According to Grifols, if you're healthy and weigh above 110 pounds, you can earn up to $200 a month donating your plasma to life-saving medicine. 

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Sign up to participate in medical tests and clinical trials. 

Universities constantly need volunteers to test new medicines and treatments -- and because the pool of willing participants is limited, there is typically a large compensation for being a guinea pig. 

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Participate in a focus group

Companies and organizations will pay you to join a focus group. These can be conducted in person, online, or via phone. You will most likely be reimbursed in cash or gift cards -- plus, you often get to test out fun new products! 

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Take online surveys

Similar to focus groups, you can get paid to give your time and insights on an online questionairre. Plus, you can do this from the comfort of your couch. 

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Bank on your sperm

Although we don't necessarily recommend this option, there is a very high demand for healthy sperm donors. Keep in mind some of the obvious drawbacks, but sperm donation is non-invasive and highly compensated. 

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Crowdfund your dreams

Crowdfunding allows you to raise monetary contributions from a large group of people who want to support your venture. Post your project or idea on a crowdfund site, like, and see the cash pile up.

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Become a tutor

If you're qualified, post an ad online or on a community board to tutor children on their school courses or for the upcoming SATs.

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Get a part-time job

Capitalize your free time (on the weekends or after work hours) by working a part-time job. A bartender, waiter, or Uber driver are all great options for an additional source of income -- and great tips! 

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Resell tickets

Take this suggestion at your own risk: If you're staying within legal limits, buy tickets low and sell high as an effective way to source additional money. (Just make sure to check your state and local laws first!)

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You can sell anything on the internet these days... including your companionship! Get paid to go on a platonic outing for a few hours and enjoy your afternoon with a new friend. 

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Rent out your parking spot

Make sure to check with your landlord first, but if you have the option to park your own car further away, lend or share your parking space or driveway for the hour, day, or even month! 

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Keep a coin jar 

This one takes patience before a big pay out, but keep a spare jar or drawer for loose change that you usually toss anyway. It will keep it all in one place -- and those quarters do add up! 

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Make something to sell 

If you have a knack for arts & crafts, create jewelry or other handmade gifts to sell on sites filled with other thrifty vendors like Etsy

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Sell items online

This effective strategy requires low effort with a high return. Post photos of your used or non-used items on sites like eBay or Craigslist, and let the bidding begin! 

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Have a yard sale

Sell clutter you've been meaning to get rid of right in your front yard. This simple tactic is convenient, and guarantees a wad of cash right to your pocket.  

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Return past purchases

This tip may seem obvious, but is often overlooked: Take your recently-purchased items that are laying around back to the store for either store credit or a full refund. 

Recycle scrap metal and cans

Collect cans and scrap metal out your own garbage, basement, and street and bring to your local recycler to exchange your findings for money.  

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