Public Comment

Why Hispanics Live Longer Than Non-Hispanic Whites

Harry Brill
Friday January 11, 2019 - 02:19:00 PM

A research team that studied the relationship between income and longevity in the United States concluded that "there's no income below which less income is not associated with lower survival". In other words, their data found that less income is never correlated with longer lives. However, a more comprehensive examination of trends in life expectancy proves otherwise. Had the researchers taken account of the life span of Hispanics they would have found that despite being poorer and less educated than non-Hispanic whites they live on the average three years longer . The American Heart Association reports that the average life span of Hispanics is 81.8 years compared to 78.8 years for whites. 

The significance of recognizing their longer life is not only that it corrects a serious inaccuracy about many of the 59 million Hispanic U.S. residents. It is important theoretically as well. It demonstrates that a longer life is possible despite being economically disadvantaged, and conversely, that a shorter life span can be typical among those who are more economically advantaged. 

About the economic situation of Hispanics, they suffer a higher than average rate of poverty. According to official statistics, the percentage of Hispanic poor is about 50 percent more than the overall rate. In fact, those who are working are more likely to be earning sub-minimum wages. And they have much less access to health care, which makes it surprising that they live longer. 

How, then, do we explain this anomaly? In contrast to the typical American family, substantial numbers of Hispanic families can be described as extended families. These families are tight knit and include not just married couples and their children. Also included are grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who either live under one roof or close by. And they feel morally responsible to assist each other with various life issues, including helping family members who are experiencing financial problems. Indeed, the strong sense of community among the family members extends their lives. The immense importance of being closely connected with others is apparent when we look at the adverse consequences of loneliness. Loneliness is a major problem for most Americans. According to a recent study, 75 percent of Americans report being lonely. As the study mentions, being lonely is not only uncomfortable and depressing. Loneliness is also associated with physical illness. In fact, Loneliness can and does kill. In a study by the insurance company, Cigma, loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. That's plenty of years of lost life. In another extensive study on this issue, the researchers found that the death rate among those who had reported being lonely was 26 percent higher than the general population. 

According to a University of California study, over a six year period almost 23 percent of seniors who reported they felt isolated passed away. This compared to about 14 percent of those who were socially satisfied. It is certainly no surprise, then, that the intergenerational housing arrangement of many Hispanics has yielded a longer life despite their being economically disadvantaged. 

However, the many problems associated with being poor are a heavy price to pay for living longer. Human beings, after all, deserve both decent incomes, economic security and the opportunities to experience the joy of living. It is certainly possible to have both. But how? 

Most of all, working people must develop their own institutions, which entails the difficult but also possible task of building strong labor unions. Democratic labor unions, which actively involve workers, build close, family-like bonds while attempting to increase wages and benefits and to also improve working conditions. In fact, unions are necessary to successfully challenge inequality. 

An outstanding achievement by 7,000 Marriott Hotel workers, mostly Latinos and Blacks, serves as an excellent example of what is possible even when combating a powerful opponent. After two months of strikes, workers at the largest hotel company on earth won major concessions on wages, benefits, and working conditions. Also, depending on the particular Marriot Hotel, they either maintained or improved their health care benefits. And the workers won better protection against overwork and understaffing.  

Until now many of these workers were compelled to hold more than one job which is why they adopted the slogan "One Job Should Be Enough". As a result of winning higher wages, that slogan became the new reality. Because they improved both their wages and working conditions, they are likely to enjoy a longer life. 

The important lesson of course, is that winning the strike is good for both their standard of living AND their longevity. Neither should ever be sacrificed for the other.