Saving money may lead to longer life, ‘but just don’t smoke’

Study examines wealth, but smoking matters more to longevity after age 65.

Accumulated wealth may lead to a longer life – but smoking outweighs savings for effects on lifespan, according to a new study that examined longevity and socioeconomic factors.

People with assets of at least $300,000 had a better chance of surviving from age 65 to 85 than those with no assets.

Even with a sizeable wealth disparity in mortality after age 65, “the smoking differential is far larger and is evident across all ages 25 and older.”

“Health care practitioners cannot modify their patient’s wealth, but they should continue to discourage smoking,” said the study in the journal JAMA Network Open. “Wealth may be associated with longevity, but just don’t smoke.”

More money did not necessarily equate to a longer life. “Additional wealth greater than $500,000 was not associated with lower mortality,” the study said.

The positive association between socioeconomic factors, such as education and income, is well established, said authors Dana A. Glei, PhD, and Maxine Weinstein, PhD, of Georgetown University’s Center for Population and Health, and Chioun Lee, PhD at the University of California – Riverside.

The relative importance of socioeconomic factors varies by life stage. After retirement, education and jobs are less salient for health, but income becomes more dependent on wealth, the study said.

Even so, claiming “wealth has a causal effect on mortality remains controversial,” they said.

“The overall wealth-related disparity in mortality does not imply causation; it simply reflects the degree of inequality,” the study said.

Illness may inhibit wealth accumulation and medical bills can decimate accumulated wealth.

Adjusting for a socioeconomic factors and marriage, the researchers found smoking history was “far greater” in affecting long life.

“For example, the probability of surviving from age 65 to 85 years was 19 percentage points higher among those with at least $300,000 in wealth (70%) than for those with debt or no assets (51%); in contrast, the differential between never smokers (70%) and current smokers (33%) was 37 percentage points,” the study said.

The researchers examined a group of 6,320 American adults age 20 to 75 with data collection beginning in 1995 and analyses completed in November 2021. The data came from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, a national database funded by the National Institute on Aging and carried out by the University of Wisconsin Institute on Aging.

They published their findings in “Assessment of Mortality Disparities by Wealth Relative to Other Measures of Socioeconomic Status Among U.S. Adults.”