Study: Your Location Affects Your Life Expectancy

Lummus Park in South Beach, Miami, Florida

©Alexander Spatari - Getty Images

Location may impact how long you live, according to a new study from MIT economists. The study examined seniors between the ages of 65 to 99 who relocated long-distance from 1999 to 2014.

For example, when a 65-year-old moves from a metro area in the 10th percentile for longevity from a metro area in the 90th percentile, they can increase their life expectancy by 1.1 years, researchers say.

“There’s a substantially important causal effect of where you live as an elderly adult on mortality and life expectancy across the United States,” says Amy Finkelstein, a professor in MIT’s Department of Economics and co-author of the study Place-Based Drivers of Mortality: Evidence of Migration. The study appears in the August issue of the American Economic Review.

Why do certain areas have longer longevity than others? Researchers point to several possible reasons, such as the availability of medical care, climate, pollution, crime, and traffic safety.

Researchers found that many urban areas on the East and West coasts—including New York City, San Francisco, and Miami—have positive effects on longevity for seniors who relocate there. Midwestern metro areas, like Chicago and Minneapolis, scored high as well.

On the other hand, several Southern states had poorer effects on longevity, such as parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and northern Florida.

Researchers continue to investigate why certain places have longer longevity. The MIT research team is currently investigating health care use or other factors that could have an impact.

“Differences in health care across places are large and potentially important,” Finkelstein says. “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.”