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Income provides economic resources that shape choices about housing, education, child care, food, medical care, and more. Wealth, the accumulation of savings and assets, helps cushion and protect us in times of economic distress. As income and wealth increase or decrease, so do opportunities for health. 

Why Is Income Important to Health?

Income can come from jobs, investments, government assistance programs or retirement plans. Income allows families and individuals to purchase health insurance and medical care, but also provides options for healthy lifestyle choices. Families and individuals made vulnerable by poverty are most likely to live in unsafe homes and neighborhoods, often with limited access to healthy foods, employment options, and quality schools. 

While the starkest difference in health is between those with the highest and lowest incomes, this relationship persists throughout all income brackets. Adults in the highest income brackets are healthier than those in the middle class and will live, on average, more than six years longer than those with the lowest incomes1.  

The ongoing stress and challenges associated with poverty can lead to cumulative health damage, both physical and mental. Chronic illness is more likely to affect those with the lowest incomes, and children in low-income households are sicker than their high income counterparts2. Mothers with lower incomes are more likely to have pre-term or low birthweight babies, who are at higher risk for chronic diseases and behavioral challenges1.  

Income inequalities in a community can accentuate differences in social class and status and serve as a social stressor. Communities with greater income inequality can experience a loss of social connectedness, as well as decreases in trust, social support, and a sense of community for all residents. 

Communities can adopt and implement policies that help reduce and prevent poverty, now and for future generations. The greatest health improvements may be made by increasing income at the lower levels, where small increases can have the greatest impacts. 


1 Braveman P, Cubbin C, Egerter S, Williams D, Pamuk E. Socioeconomic Disparities in Health in the United States: What the Patterns Tell US. American Journal of Public Health. 2009; 100, S186_S196. 

2 Braveman P, Gottlieb L. The Social Determinants of Health: It’s Time to Consider the Causes of the Causes. Public Health Reports 2014; 129:1_suppl2, 19-31. 

3 Lynch J, Smith GD, Harper S, Hillemeier M. Is income inequality a determinant of population health? Part 2. U.S. National and regional trends in income inequality and age- and cause-specific mortality. Milbank Quarterly. 2004; 82(2):355-400. 


Our Rankings show how healthy a community is as well as indicators for future health. This provides a starting point for action on improving health for all. Dig deeper into the measures below to learn more about our approaches to measuring health.

Ratio of women's median earnings to men's median earnings for all full-time, year-round workers, presented as
The hourly wage needed to cover basic household expenses plus all relevant taxes for a household of one adult and two children.