Monday, January 05, 2009

Should Govt. Reduce Life-Expectancy Inequality?

In 2005, life expectancy at birth was 7% higher for American women (80.4 yrs.) than for American men (75.2 yrs.). Governments could certainly reduce this life-expectancy inequality by redistributing medical research funding on women's health to research on men's health, and general medical care funding from women to men. Consider that men are more likely to die from prostate cancer than women are from breast cancer. Yet in 2005 federal expenditures for prostate cancer research were $390 million compared to $698 million for breast cancer research (see chart above), and the American Cancer Society contributed almost three times as much for breast cancer research ($98 million) as for prostate cancer research ($36 million).

I find that people generally agree with, and rarely strongly oppose, forcible government transfers of income from the rich to the poor to reduce income inequality. But when I suggest that the government transfer medical expenditures from women to men to reduce life-expectancy inequality, I get a very different reaction. Often, the listener will simply give me a strange look and quickly depart. Those who do respond verbally, however, typically say that I couldn't possibly be serious because my idea is outrageously silly. I agree. It is silly. But I am completely serious in suggesting it.

When we seriously consider an attempt to use government power to reduce the gender inequality in life expectancy, the problems that we have always faced when government uses its power to reduce income inequality suddenly become crystal clear. Government transfers to reduce the gender gap in life expectancy would do little more than reduce improvements in both women's and men's life expectancies. For similar reasons, government transfers have done little more than reduce the income growth of both the rich and the poor. So government attempts to reduce life-expectancy inequality by transferring medical expenditures would be silly, but no sillier than its attempts to reduce income inequality by transferring money.

There are several reasons why redistributing medical expenditures to reduce gender inequality in life expectancies would not work. And there are parallel reasons for the failure of redistributing money to reduce income inequality.

Read more here of economist Dwight Lee's article "Should Government Reduce Inequality in Life Spans?"

25 Comments:

At 1/06/2009 3:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much of the discrepency is a result of men working in typically more dangerous jobs such as construction, mining, etc (stereotypical, I know, but true), and therefore young men dying pushing down the life expectency?

How do the results compare when only comparing men and women who live past the age of, say, 70?

-anonymous 4:29 am

 
At 1/06/2009 5:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so that means women would live less than men relative to what is today. so does that mean we would finally start paying women equal wages for their participation in the society??? probably not. so basically men just get to live longer with continued inequality (more) in pay...

just one way to look at it, i think...

 
At 1/06/2009 8:23 AM, Blogger 1 said...

anon @ 5:32 AM whines: "so does that mean we would finally start paying women equal wages for their participation in the society???"...

Nope! Women can't carry their end of the log... Women (like everyone else) are paid what they are worth...

 
At 1/06/2009 8:51 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

All attempts at creating equality in one sector are guaranteed to create a proportional amount of inequality in another sector.

 
At 1/06/2009 9:11 AM, Blogger Marcus said...

"so does that mean we would finally start paying women equal wages for their participation in the society???"

If women are more productive than men per dollar paid, do you not think some greedy capitalists would have noticed that by now?

There by equalizing the wages?

 
At 1/06/2009 10:11 AM, Blogger Chetly Zarko said...

Mark, as a guy handling media response for MCRI - Michigan's 2006 Proposal 2 - to end race and gender preferences - I alway got a internal chuck about this issue when our opponents would raise this very issue arguing that we'd be killing women because we'd somehow affect breast cancer research. U-M's Center for Education of Women issued a bogus "study" report to that tune (along with a bunch of other claims) back in 2007 just after we qualified the signatures.

Of course, I could never make the points you refer to here because it wouldn't play in the media. We simply pointed out that MCRI doesn't affect research decisions for technical reasons, which is true, and that their study was political.

One reason it wouldn't work is that scientists should have a fair amount of discretion to work in their preferred fields of interest - presumably they'll do better basic research. Of course, whether the feds should be subsidizing any of it is another question but...

As to the commenter on pay equality, the numbers that most cite for inequality are "lifetime aggregated" averages and do not factor into play the fact that women voluntarily exit the labor market for long-periods to have an raise children. Most "job-to-job" comparisons show the pay within a penny of each other, and studies that try to aggregate and account for the child-rearing and other non-discriminatory differences have even shown women at a $1.01 to a man's dollar (men also on average take "riskier" jobs resulting in higher death rates, and those jobs pay more on average). The penalties to employers for unequal pay are harsh - so while it may happen its not common and the law gives women proper recourse.

 
At 1/06/2009 12:21 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

It's because men like breasts, and nobody cares about prostates until something goes bad.

 
At 1/06/2009 12:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's because men like breasts, and nobody cares about prostates until something goes bad."

Amen, brother!

 
At 1/06/2009 1:04 PM, Anonymous Norman said...

I too thought this was an inequality but it was pointed out that breast cancer claims much younger victims than does prostrate cancer. A careful analysis on this basis may even argue for more breast cancer research.

 
At 1/06/2009 2:25 PM, Blogger NoWhining said...

I think the author's point is not whether or not the government really should shift funding to reduce life expectancy equality. Rather, the argument for doing so is as flimsy as the argument for redistributing income/wealth, etc. by the same means (i.e. government power).

 
At 1/06/2009 2:45 PM, Blogger QT said...

Rather than turning this into a gender issue, should we not also consider the physical assessibility in terms of detection and treatment.

When an area is highly accessible, the patient is more likely to detect lump or a change in the appearance of the tissue and seek medical attention quickly. Additionally, if the testing causes patients discomfort (ie. the gloved finger), the patient may avoid the tests.

PSI testing can detect prostate cancer cells increasingly as patients age although not all patients will develop prostate cancer. A sudden rise in PSI is what clinicians are looking for.

Early detection and treatment directly impact survival rates. Like breast cancer, there are different forms of prostate cancer which progress at different rates.

Focusing on gender issues merely serves to politicize the issue but does little to inform patients or improve patient outcomes.

 
At 1/06/2009 3:52 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

Social Security exascerbates the financial impact of life-expectancy inequality.

This thread reminds me of one more reason Social Security should be privatized.

 
At 1/06/2009 3:53 PM, Blogger QT said...

You can certainly tell I work in a construction related field. Should be "PSA" not "PSI" (pounds per sq. inch) :D

Before we get too hung up on gender inequities, perhaps, we should look at the overall progress on cancer:

Death rates from all cancers combined declined 1.5 percent per year from 1993 to 2002 in men, compared to a 0.8 percent decline in women from 1992 to 2002**. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. Death rates decreased for 12 of the top 15 cancers in men, and nine of the top 15 cancers in women.

More good news on declining deaths from cancer.

 
At 1/06/2009 3:59 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

1 says everyone is paid what they are worth.

So if everyone at my workplace is paid within 20 cents of minimum wage, every employee is worth within 20 cents of minimum wage?

Since individual performance and productivity vary, I find 1's assertion highly dubious.

 
At 1/06/2009 6:11 PM, Blogger QT said...

NoWhining,

You're right. That's exactly where the author is taking this specious argument.

Poorboomer,

If you are working for only 20 cents more than min. wage, then it's time you made some changes in your life. Many of us have felt trapped in a negative work environment. Perhaps, it's time to make some positive changes in your life.

Found "Always Change a Losing Game" by Dr. David Posen to be very helpful.

Best wishes from a fellow traveller.

 
At 1/06/2009 9:52 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

Hey thanks, that book sounds interesting and I had never heard of it.

 
At 1/06/2009 9:55 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

And priced right too...

17 used from $0.01

 
At 1/06/2009 10:00 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

Woo hoo! I found a copy at a local bookstore. Of course, I'm not going to actually pay list price.

 
At 1/06/2009 10:28 PM, Blogger QT said...

Hope you find it useful.

1 cent, eh. I'm going to have to start taping into the used book stores.

 
At 1/07/2009 12:19 AM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

The $0.01 books are from Amazon sellers.

The local bookstore has a new copy at list price, so I'll try to take a quick peek before buying one of the one-cent copies.

Of course, the shipping is $4, which I find less attractive.

 
At 1/07/2009 10:03 AM, Blogger Michael said...

What does it mean and where is the source of "men are more likely to die from prostate cancer than women from breast cancer." Perhaps women are only less likely because of higher federal spending. It is my suspicion that in the past, breast cancer had a high fatality rate - and that rate has been lowered to a rate less than prostate fatalities in recent times due to scientific advances.

Why isn't this blog article asking, "since cancer research is effective at reducing fatality rates of some (breast) cancers, why isn't the federal government spending more on cancer research?"

That's the question Mark is trying to muddle with this pseudo reverse-discrimination accusation.

 
At 1/07/2009 5:14 PM, Blogger 1 said...

"So if everyone at my workplace is paid within 20 cents of minimum wage, every employee is worth within 20 cents of minimum wage?"...

Probably quite a bit less than the mandated extortion scheme the states and federal government foist onto businesses in this country poor boomer...

Minimum wage (along EEOC help) are paid to people with strong backs & weak minds poor boomer...

Useful, necessary job skills always pay well...

 
At 1/07/2009 7:03 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

Total wages paid in 2007: approx $400K.

Total employer net profit: approx $3M

The employees are highly productive; unfortunately wages are not a function of productivity.

 
At 1/08/2009 3:57 AM, Blogger 1 said...

"The employees are highly productive; unfortunately wages are not a function of productivity"...

ROFLMAO!

Then the joke is on you so maybe you should move on to something else...

 
At 1/08/2009 12:14 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

I have no career-related experience and I have no money.

Where on earth would I get a job that pays? (no money to return to school)

I see opportunity all over but with no money, I am hardly in a position to start a business.

 

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