Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Live Long And Prosper In Cities

     http://www.citylab.com; January 16, 2018


Hello Everyone:

Order has been restored to the American universe as temporarily furloughed federal employees trudge back to work.  Blogger Candidate Forum just stuck his in the door to let Yours Truly know that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is seeking to question the President of The United States regarding his summary dismissal of Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey.  It sounds like things are quickly heating up.  Could the summer bring the announcement "Mr. President, you are the target of an obstruction of justice investigation?"  There is still a long way to go before we hear those words but between the questioning of (for now) Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the promise of cooperation from former Trump insider Steve Bannon, it certainly look like the walls are closing in.  Stay tuned, this just got really good.  Enough teasing and on to today's subject: how great cities can lengthen your lifespan.

Can a great city enable you to live a longer life?  What are the factors that contribute to a great city and, by extension, increase your lifespan?  These are the questions that Stanford economist Raj Chetty  answers in one of the most intriguing social science research from the Equality of Opportunity Project (equality-of-opportunity.org; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018).  Joe Cortright spotlights Mr. Chetty's work in his CityLab article "Great Cities Enable You to Live Longer."  Mr. Cortright reports, "The project's major work looks at the factors contributing to intergenerational economic-the extent to which different communities actually enable the American Dream of people in the lowest income groups being able to move up economically."  In a related study (jamanetwork.com; April 26, 2016; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018), Mr. Chetty and his team examined how life expectancy differs by community.

The majority of the study is focused on the "relationship between longevity and income," and has been well-documented in other sources (nytimes.com; April 11, 2016; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018).  Mr. Cortright writes, "It highlights patterns that anyone following issues of inequality in the U.S. would have long suspected to be true-that life expectancy is strongly correlated with income, and that the gap in life expectancy between high- and low-income people has grown-..." The hard numbers bear this out.

Raj Chetty and his team also analyzed their information by commenting zone (similar to a metropolitan area) and county, which we can also reach important conclusions regarding the connection between where you live and and your lifespan, in the same manner as the team's earlier research on the link between place and economic opportunity.  Essentially,  "strong urban environments can boost their residents' longevity-especially for the low-income."

If you go to citylab.com; Jan.16, 2018, you can check out a map of the United States that charts the spectrum of life expectancy for the bottom income quartile.  The dark red areas indicate a lifespan of 75- years old or less.  This average life expectancy corresponds to metropolitans in the Midwestern, southern, and mountain regions.  The light yellow areas indicate a lifespan of 77-years-old or greater.  This, no surprise, corresponds to the coastal areas.

Joe Cortright observes, "This wide variation in life expectancy by region provides some insights into the community characteristics that are most closely associated with longer lives.  CityLab (citylab.com; Jan.16, 2018; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018) has reproduced a key chart from Chetty et al's research that demonstrates the correlation between a number of regional characteristics and life expectancy of people in the bottom income quadrant.

The chart maps out health behaviors, access to healthcare, environmental determinants, income inequality and social cohesion, local workforce conditions, and other factors.  The dots represent the point estimate, the lines signify the 95 percent confidence interval of the approximation.  Mr. Cortright writes, "Postive values indicate that life expectancy increases with increas in the local characteristic; negative values indicate that life expectancy decreases as the value of the local characteristics increases."

He continues, "In part, these statistics affirm what we already know: Places where people smoke more and where obesity is more prevalent have shorter life expectancies; places where people exercise more  have longer life expectancies."  An important thing to remember "Regional variations in key health behaviors are reflected directly in the life expectancy of the poor."  Another important idea to keep in mind, "...the report casts some doubt on some other factors that people think influence health and mortality."  Chetty et all examined the role of a variety of health care intiatives, the presence of social capital, and the role of inequality and unemployment; concluding that "regional variations in these characteristics had weak, if any correlation with regional variations in life expectancy."

"The unexpected importance of place"

"You are where you live."  Where people live unexpectedly turned out to be an important factor: "...strong, consistent positive contribution of several community level variables to life expectancy."  Interestingly, low-income people tended to live longer in communities with a higher immigrant population, more expensive housing, increased government spending, greater density, and a well educated population.  These characteristics were placed at the bottom of Raj Chetty's chart (see citylab.com; Jan. 16, 2018; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018) in the category of "Other factors."

The data demonstrates a series of strong positive correlations.  Cities with a greater immigrant population have a longer lifespan for low-income residents. This is also true for cities with more expensive housing.  That one is a puzzle for Blogger because Yours Truly was under the impression that a stable affordable place to live was crucial to better health, and by extension, a longer lifespan.  Regardless, the data also found that low-income residents have a longer lifespan in places with greater government spending, increased density, and a better educated populace.  Joe Cortright surmises, "Taken together, these correlations suggest the importance of postive spillover effects from health urban places."  This makes sense to Blogger.  This would suggest that large cities tend to have higher levels of density.  Further, successful cities are magnets for immigrants, have more expensive housing, and a better educated population. All of these elements combine to produce a thriving city in turn means a longer lifespan for low-income residents.

Joe Cortright cites this passage from the study in which the co-authors explain that "their data make a strong case for a relationship between cities and greater longevity of the poor:"

The strongest pattern in the data was that low-income individuals tend to live longer (and have more healthful behaviors) in cities with highly educated populations, high incomes, and high levels of government expenditures, such as New York, New York and San Francisco, California.  In these cities life expectancy for individuals in the bottom 5% of the income distribution was approximately 80 years. In contrast, in cities such as Gary, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan, the expected age of death for individuals in the bottom 5% of the income distribution was approximately 75 years.  Low-income individuals living incities with highly educated populations and high incomes also experienced the largest gains in life expectancy during the 2000s.

As always, correlation does not equal causation; some of these optimistic findings may be based on factors such a s immigrants who choose to move to cities.  Be that as it may, "the strength of these correlations (and their absence for other variables like access to medical care) signals a need for further scrutiny." Additionally, this manner of broad statistical analysis comes with some caveats: "the paper takes only a first-pass, high-level look at correlations between geographic variables and life expectancy.  This analysis shows the simple and direct relationship between each tested variable and life expectancy-but doesn't measure any interaction among variables."  Again, correlation does not equal causation.  Nevertheless, by studying the correlation between certain local characteristics and life expectancy, we can answer the question of does place matter when it comes to life expectancy.

Thus far, there has been a good body of circumstantial evidence that supported the notion that cities are healthier.  We know from previous research and our own experiences that people in cities and denser environments tend to walk more (surgeongeneral.gov; date accessed Jan. 23, 2018), a key component to longevity.  Urban dwellers tend to drive less and suffer the aftermath of automobile accidents and more sedate lifestyles are associated with car dependent communities. More reason to put that phone down, go for a walk or take public transportation.  From our extensive reading of Richard Florida's articles, we know that "cities promote higher levels of innovation and productivity and that city economic success is correlated with education," however the data from Raj Chetty's study suggest that there maybe beneficial spillover in relation to life expectancy even for low-income urban dwellers.

Joe Cortright charmingly quotes Star Trek's most famous character Mr. Spock when he admonishes us to Live long and prosper.  A sentiment that Blogger wishes on all her fans and followers.  Taking Raj Chetty et al's latest study together with previous research on the link between place and inter-generational mobility, the studies combine to accentuate the role that community defining characteristics play in determining lifespan thus indicating that successful cities may be the biggest contributor to a long and prosperous life.