Fintan O’Toole: Ireland’s well-off live five years longer than its poor

People in the top layer of Irish society get five years more of life than those at the bottom

For both mean and women the relationship between wealth and time moves rigidly in lockstep: the better off you are, the more years you get

For both mean and women the relationship between wealth and time moves rigidly in lockstep: the better off you are, the more years you get

Five years, 60 months, 260 weeks, 1825 days. That’s the amount of extra life you get in Ireland if you are in the top 20 per cent of earners, as opposed to those in the bottom 20 per cent. It’s a long time, time enough to see a grandchild through from birth to school, time to plant a garden, time to do a whole university degree or write a novel or learn a language. An Irish man in the top bracket can now expect to live for 84.4 years. His fellow citizen in the bottom bracket can expect to die at 79.4 years old. For women, the gap is slightly narrower: 4½ years. But for both genders, the relationship between wealth and time moves rigidly in lockstep: the better off you are, the more years you get. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, mortality rates among Traveller males are 3.7 times higher than among the general male population.

If you add up those lost years for the bottom 20 per cent alone, they amount to about 4.8 million years on unlived life in Ireland. The 17th-century English revolutionary Thomas Rainsborough said that “the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he”. But that’s still not true in many countries, including our own. The poorest he and she have less life to lead. The years, the months, the days are not just measures of time – they measure social power.

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