Today, we seem to find that it's healthy to be
wealthy. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Doctor Robert Evans and his
colleagues offer a book with the title, Why
Are Some People Healthy and Others Not? Why
indeed? Evans quotes facts that cry out for
explanation. First, a graph of deaths among male
English civil servants between the ages of 40 and
64. Over a ten-year period, 16 percent of the blue
collar workers died, 12 percent of the clerical
workers, 8 percent of the professionals, and only 5
percent of the executives died.
It's true that more people smoke on the low end of
the status scale. But not enough to explain a
four-to-one difference between top and bottom. In
fact, the few top people who do smoke suffer less
from the habit than people low in the pecking
This opens the door to all kinds of rationale. The
social Darwinist says, "Of course! Superior people
are healthier, smarter, live longer, and rise
higher." The voice of social conscience says,
"Inequity and injustice harm people in far more
ways than just encouraging the poor to smoke
cigarettes." A third view says high status is good
for you on some psychic level.
Next, Evans considers how tuberculosis deaths have
steadily decreased since 1840. The introduction of
chemotherapy treatment in 1948, and vaccination in
1955, sped that decline but neither caused it.
Something else was going on. As the standard of
living rose, so did everyone's general health. In
effect, the social status of the general population
also rose during that period.
Evans also looks at blood pressure. People from all
social levels have about the same readings at work,
but those lower on the social scale have higher
blood pressure at home. They live in a more
stressful environment and they suffer far more
A comparison of Japanese and American life
expectancies provides another compelling statistic.
Americans live about five years longer than they
did in 1960, but Japanese live twelve years longer.
The problem is, Japanese diet and social order have
changed little. The quality of their health care
has improved less than ours. What has changed is
Japan's rise in the hierarchy of nations. You might
say that Japan is no longer a blue-collar country.
Of course we miss the point if we think we have to
be rich to be healthy. What we need isn't wealth.
It's calm and stability. Studies of poor
populations show that life expectancy rises when
women are better educated and better equipped to
determine their own lives. And those are factors
that lend stability to a society.
Still, poverty surely fosters stress in many ways,
and stress shortens life. Longevity means finding
calm and forging contentment. Poet Thomas Campion
said it wonderfully well 400 years ago:
Good thoughts his only friends,
His wealth a well-spent age,
The earth his sober inn
And quiet pilgrimage.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds