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Be Rich, Be Smart, Live Longer. Fair?

Author: Peter R. Orszag, Adjunct Senior Fellow
April 3, 2013


Better-educated Americans increasingly live longer than everyone else, and children from higher-income families in the U.S. are getting more education than other people. These are two of the most disturbing trends in the U.S., and it's entirely plausible that they are related.

Economists have recognized many possible connections between health and education, but so far they have done little to link the trends toward greater inequality in each area.

Linkages could run in either direction: Disproportionate gains in income among affluent families may facilitate college completion by their children, and also provide resources that lengthen their life expectancy.

On the other hand, something such as better access to cutting-edge medical treatments could increase life expectancy disproportionately for children from high-income families. And that, in turn, may make them more likely to complete college -- since the payoff from a college degree would be enjoyed over a longer period of time. In that case, a force that increases life expectancy for higher-income families would also widen the college-completion gap.

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