Money in the bank may be a bigger contributor to health than your age, according to an extensive survey.
The 19th State of the Nation Report from Roy Morgan Research surveyed almost 100,000 Australians and revealed a wide health gap between rich and poor.
The Roy Morgan study breaks down the Australian population into seven common profiles, and measures their health based on body mass index (BMI), medical conditions, alcohol consumption, smoking, fitness, nutrition and mental health.
The younger, well-paid inner city types, termed ‘Metrotechs’ and the older, higher net-worth individuals, labelled ‘Leading Lifestyles’, rank highest for overall wellbeing by a sizeable margin.
The term coined as ‘Battlers’ is the group struggling the most financially, and they rank the lowest for wellbeing.
Age shall not weary them
Surprisingly, the youngest groups are not necessarily the healthiest.
The Leading Lifestyles group, with an average age of 47, have a better wellbeing score than the next three younger groups.
Aussie Achievers also score better than Today’s Families despite being four years older on average.
General Manger of Consumer Products at Roy Morgan, Geoffrey Smith, says wealth has a whole lot to do with good health – even more so than age on some measures.
“Sure, as you get old you’re more likely to more problems and conditions, but not all of these things are directly related to being old. In some of these areas, older people are in fact doing very well.”
Nutrition is one area where older groups are beating the younger ones, according to Roy Morgan – a finding to which Mr Smith personally relates.
“There’s a whole lot less pizza in my life now than when I was 20, and I’m guessing by the time I’m a retiree there will be a whole lot less than that. You do pay attention more to what you can eat, as opposed to what you like to eat,” he says.
The health-wealth divide
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare‘s CEO David Kalisch says the mindsets and habits that accompany wealth are just as important as the money itself.
“Income can largely be seen as a proxy for your education and employment,” Mr Kalisch says.
“Those who are better educated make better choices in terms of some of their lifestyle risks, as well as the way in which they can access, or perceive the need to access, health services.”
Mr Kalisch says his own institute’s research backs up the Roy Morgan findings. Obesity amongst women and children, smoking rates, alcohol abuse, cancer mortality, and life expectancy are all worse in poorer areas, especially rural and remote regions, according to the Australian’s health 2014 report from the AIHW.
Health statistics from the New South Wales Government show that richer men born in 2007 will live an average of 4.3 years longer than poorer men of the same age, and richer women 2.6 years longer.
You only need to look at anecdotal evidence to see the healthy influence of wealth, says James Hyde, professor of public policy at Deakin University.
“People of wealth or higher class tend to live longer. Now, that doesn’t mean that all of them do because some people like Kerry Packer have kidneys that don’t work and they die. The fact is that Kerry Packer had enough money to be able to pay for his helicopter pilot to give him a kidney transplant. Most people don’t have that opportunity,” Mr Hyde says.
The good news
The good news is that health is only partly determined by your genes – “well under 50 per cent” according to Professor Hyde.
Housing, education, and employment are all more important to health, he says.
Thankfully, Australia is very socially mobile. So even if you’ve struggled so far, there is still hope for your health, and your bank balance, to improve.
The bad news
The wealthiest do suffer on one health measure – booze. The worst scores for alcohol consumption are amongst the wealthier profiles, Roy Morgan’s Geoffrey Smith confirms.
Why? “Because they can afford to drink,” Mr Smith says. “I do think it’s as simple as that.”
Read more on the health and wealth gap between nations in The Great Escape by Angus Deaton. Buy it here.
Angus Deaton, one of the foremost experts on economic development and on poverty tells the remarkable story of how, starting 250 years ago, some parts of the world began to experience sustained progress, opening up gaps and setting the stage for today's hugely unequal world. Deaton takes an in-depth look at the historical and ongoing patterns behind the health and wealth of nations, and he addresses what needs to be done to help those left behind.