October 1, 2022

Does Having Money Actually Lead to a Good Life?

Valerie Mellema
Fortune 500 Editorial Contributor

Money doesn’t affect every aspect of our lives, right? Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The amount of income you earn will directly affect every aspect of your life, whether that be negative or positive. It will determine your general quality of life.

The short answer to the titular question is yes. At least when we consider the relation between income and health and being healthy as the foundation for a good life.

Over the years, studies have shown that the greater one's income, the less likely they are to develop diseases or die prematurely. Both your income and net worth will have a direct correlation to your personal health. And that goes for every financial income level in the United States, whether you're part of the lower, middle, or upper class. In fact, income directly affects your health no matter how much money you make. 

How Does Lower Income Contribute to Lower Quality of Life?

There are many ways that lower income is going to cause a lower quality of life. A lower income often means less opportunity or access to basic human requirements. Examples include proper nutrition or food, schools, health access, shelter, and safe neighborhoods. A lack of resources like clean air and water, or sense of community also contributes to a lower standard of living. 

It’s important to understand that poverty does not directly cause disease or premature death itself. And living in poverty does not predetermine your life-long health. But studies have shown our health is related to our environment and social behaviors. Living in a less than satisfactory environment will, in turn, contribute to lower quality of life.

A great example can be found in the comparison of two different communities in Virginia. These communities have an 18-year difference in life expectancy. In Fairfax County, the average male is expected to live to 82, while with women it’s 85. Only 350 miles away in McDowell County the life expectancy is 64 and 73, respectively. How is that possible? These individuals live in the same state, but have very different life outcomes. 

The largest difference found between the two counties was income. The median income in Fairfax County is over $100,000 annually. In McDowell, the median income falls below the federal poverty line at just under $25,000 annually. While Fairfax County falls into suburbia, McDowell County is a rural Appalachian area. In this case, studies show there are many factors contributing to life expectancy. But income is most prevalent.

What Are Some Ways Health Is Directly Affected by Income?

A lack of proper health access, such as to doctors and clinics, is prevalent in lower-income areas. In turn, people are often forced to take time off work or spend more of their time at home sick or helping another to heal. They may not have access to healthy food choices, which can cause diseases such as diabetes. It can also lead to more health complications down the road. More health complications mean less time to work and less income. 

The everyday stress that’s associated with making ends meet can take a huge toll on health as well. Stress, when unmanaged, can increase your risk of diseases. Cancer, heart disease, or a stroke, just to name a few. 

On the other end of the spectrum, are those with adequate income. Those who can support themselves and their health. Enough income allows for access to health resources. Examples include doctors and clinics, proper nutrition and groceries, safe housing, and communities, plus opportunities to exercise, learn, and access to clean resources like air and water. Opportunities to further education and stay on top of health will only increase your quality of living.

So, What Now?

We’ve mentioned the ways that poverty can directly affect health and quality of life. But it’s important to understand the complexity of this topic. There are many factors other than income that will affect your quality of living. To study the topic in more depth you'd have to look into all the contributing factors.

While someone who lives in poverty may have to deal with disease or premature death, it is not a certainty. But health can also affect how much money an individual can earn throughout their lifetime. Someone born with a disability or too sick to work may struggle to maintain income. On top of those things, public policies and social organization may affect your life as well. And while those factors have been brought up, there have yet to be any changes made. 

At the end of the day, it’s easy to see that the topic of low income and poor health is very complex. The ways income and quality of life are connected seem endless. But the connection is clear that a lower income directly correlates to poor health and a lower quality of life.

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