Poorer 50-somethings 'ten times more likely to die' than richer peers

Last updated at 12:48 07 July 2006

Poorer 50-somethings are more than 10 times more likely to die than their richer peers, a study revealed today.

The research found older people with less money were also more likely to be prone to ill health, "despite a fairly even distribution in the quality of healthcare between different wealth groups".

"Striking" socio-economic differences were also found in numeracy and literacy, while approximately twice as many poorer people feel isolated often or some of the time compared with the richest.

The data was culled from the latest results of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (Elsa).

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, of the University College London Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and principal investigator of the study, said: "By combining expertise from a number of disciplines, Elsa allows the interaction between health and economic status to be fully explored.

"A key purpose of Elsa is to discover what people aged 50 years and above do, and are able to do, as they age.

"A second major purpose is to go beyond description of what people do to discover why they do it and to seek explanations for why some people have good trajectories in older age and others don't.

"Without such understanding it is hard to see how policies could be designed to make things better."

Of those aged 50-59, researchers found 2.5 per cent of the poorest fifth had died, compared with only 0.2 per cent of the richest fifth.

Of those aged 60-74, deaths accounted for 5.9 per cent of the poorest and 1.3 per cent of the richest.

Analysing 17 chronic conditions in those under 75, the relatively rich reported better health, with lower levels reporting a new diagnosis of disease and fewer complaints of symptoms, including severe pain.

Lower prevalence of obesity

The research shows greater wealth is also associated with lower prevalence of obesity in women and of central adiposity (measured by waist to hip ratio) in men and women.

Dr Elizabeth Breeze, of the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and one of the report's authors, said: "With regard to health, the richest had an advantage over the poorest, at least under the age of 75 years.

"This was noticeable for symptoms such as pain and poor balance, for recent diagnoses of disease, for some biological measures such as adverse body shape, and for impaired performance on mobility and strength tests."

The researchers also found quality of healthcare varied substantially by condition, but was generally better in those which are of greater public health importance, such as hypertension.

However, despite the differences in health, once a doctor or nurse had been seen, the quality of care did not appear to be influenced by wealth, the report found.

In numeracy and literacy it was found that, although only 4% overall were impaired on both, almost eight times the proportion in the lowest quintile were impaired as in the highest.

The data, published tomorrow in the report Retirement, Health And Relationships In The Older Population In England, is the second set of results to be released from the most comprehensive study into the economic, social, psychological and health elements of the ageing process in Europe.

The study follows the life experiences of a group born before 1952 at two year intervals. Some 8,780 people were interviewed.

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