Where you live could affect how long you live, study finds

One of the most important decisions you will make in retirement is where you choose to retire.

Releasing the equity in your home is a key consideration for retirees, as has been outlined in the federal government’s Retirement Income Review, but for those considering a tree or sea change, a report from the United States might give you pause for thought.

It turns out that where you live can have a significant impact on how long you live.

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) regularly updates statistics on where people live longest and, according to the latest figures, life expectancy was highest for women in the Australian Capital Territory (85.6 years) and for men the highest life expectancy was in Victoria (81.8 years).

The lowest life expectancy for men and women is in the Northern Territory (75.5 years and 80.6 years respectively).

The ABS figures also show that life expectancy is higher in capital cities than it is in regional areas.

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It has long been thought that the main driver of the difference in longevity between people in the cities and those in the regions, which is a worldwide trend, was the differences in lifestyles (a greater tendency towards smoking, obesity and similarly related behavioural factors).

This American study casts doubt on those assumptions by tracking the differences in health outcomes for seniors who relocate long distances and still recorded differences in the longevity outcomes.

The study found that when a 65-year-old moves from a metro area in the 10th percentile, in terms of how much those areas enhance longevity, to a metro area in the 90th percentile, it increases that person’s life expectancy by 1.1 years.

That is a notable boost, given that mean life expectancy for 65-year-olds in the US is 83.3 years.

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“There is a substantively important causal effect of where you live as an elderly adult on mortality and life expectancy across the United States,” explained Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Amy Finkelstein.

One clear possibility from for the results of the study points towards the nature of available medical care in different locations, while the researchers also discussed the impact on longevity of climate, pollution, crime and traffic safety.

The study analysed medical records of around 6.3 million US citizens over a 15-year period (from 1999 to 2014) for people aged 65 to 99, focusing on those who were originally from the same location and how they fared when moving to different destinations.

“The idea is to take two elderly people from a given origin, say, Boston,” Prof Finkelstein explained. “One moves to low-mortality Minneapolis, one moves to high-mortality Houston. We then compare how long each lives after they move.”

Different people have different health profiles before they move, of course, but the researchers tried to account for pre-existing health levels of seniors from the same location who moved to different places.

The study found that big cities on the coasts (New York City, San Francisco and Miami) had positive effects on longevity for seniors moving there.

By contrast, seniors who moved to places with poorer longevity outcomes, such as areas in the Deep South, had negative effects on their own longevity.

“Differences in healthcare across places are large and potentially important,” Prof. Finkelstein explained.

“But there are also differences in pollution, weather, [and] other aspects.

“What we need to do now is get inside the black box of ‘the place’ and figure out what it is about them that matters for longevity.”

Have you decided where you would like to retire? Have your already moved for your retirement? Was access to appropriate medical care one of the key considerations in your decision? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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