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Get rich or die sooner: Study shows high-earning Canadians outlive the poor

While the data is easily understood, the underlying causes are less clear. (Getty Images)

Canadians who earn more money have more time to spend it, according to a new study based on five decades of Canada Pension Plan data.

Researchers at the C.D. Howe Institute found high-earning Canadians outlive the poor by several years.

The rich-poor longevity gap is especially pronounced in men. The highest-earning males outlived the lowest-earning men by eight years, or more than 10 per cent, according to the data. For women, the gap was found to be three years.

The study, led by Professor Kevin Milligan of the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics and Professor Tammy Schirle of Wilfrid Laurier University, is said to be the first of its kind.

Researchers looked at Canadians born between 1923 and 1955. Life expectancy for men ranged from 75 years old for low-income earners to 86 years old for those with the highest incomes. The numbers for women ranged from 83 years old to 86 years old, respectively.

Milligan and Schirle acknowledge that more women enter the workforce today, versus the period studied.

The report notes, “Because many women born between 1923 and 1955 did not have a strong attachment to careers outside the home, many of those in the lower earnings groups would have resided in households with substantial lifetime family earnings.”

While the data is easily understood, the underlying causes are less clear.

“We do not have evidence that the earnings-longevity relationship is causal – those with higher earnings may have higher education, different health habits and other characteristics that drive their longevity more than the income itself,” Milligan said in a news release accompanying the study.

The report also highlights an interesting divergence between Canada and the United States.

The gap in life expectancy between high and low earners in Canada was found to be consistent over time, with improvements in longevity evident across all earnings levels. That result is in sharp contrast to U.S. analysis showing greater longevity growth for high income individuals, with wealthy American men living 14 years longer than the most poor.

“Our data do not allow us to draw conclusions about the causes of the earnings gradient and its uniform shift in Canada, and why it is different from the United States.” said Schirle.

Milligan and Schirle said the research is an important first step a better understanding Canada aging population, with significant policy implications.

“This matters because with those extra years of life come some costs such as pensions, healthcare, and other age-dependent expenditures,” they wrote in the report.

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