Money Isn't Everything For Well-Being, Study Finds

08/08/2011 05:22 pm ET | Updated Oct 08, 2011

Whoever coined the phrase "your health is your wealth" may have been on to something. While the Pew Research Center's recent report on the wealth gap between whites and blacks may be grim, a new study out of the University of Chicago contends that traditional measures of prosperity are not the best gauges of overall well-being.

The study, called “Health and Wealth Disparities in the United States,” shows that when health is taken into account in addition to income, the prosperity gap between blacks and whites shrinks.

“A richer individual who is bed-ridden may be worse off than a perfectly healthy, poor person,” wrote Tomas J. Philipson, the Daniel Levin Professor of Public Policy Studies in the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy Studies who co-authored the study.

The authors believe that both health and income should be taken into consideration to give a better picture of the well-being gap between races.

Income disparities are not a new development, as the study authors noted. In fact, there was a 75 percent spread in monetary income between black and white males in the U.S. in 1970. That gap fell, however, to 56 percent in 2000. When longevity was factored in, there was a disparity of 111 percent in 1970 and 76 percent in 2000.

The theory: Since whites are generally healthier than blacks, the level of disparity at any single point of time increased. However, black health has improved much faster relative to white health since 1970, suggesting that overall well-being gaps are narrowing more than traditional research shows.

“The point is not to downplay the lack of convergence in incomes, but rather to observe that alternative measures, such as full income including health, suggest a more optimistic view of trends in black-white disparities,” the authors wrote.