To determine the relationship between wealth—or lack thereof—and life expectancy, the GAO examined a representative sample of Americans born from 1931 through 1941, making them between 51 and 61 years of age in 1992.
"The same individuals have been re-interviewed every two years since, provided they continued to participate in the survey, and the most recent complete data is from 2014, when those who were still alive were 73 to 83 years old," according to the GAO.
The agency found that just 48 percent of those in the bottom 20 percent of the wealth distribution were still alive in 2014. By contrast, over 75 percent of those in the wealthiest 20 percent were still alive, indicating that—in the words of the GAO—"income and wealth each have strong associations with longevity."
According to the GAO, the average wealth of the richest 20 percent of older U.S. households more than doubled between 1989 and 2016. Meanwhile, between 1989 and 2013, the average wealth of older households in the bottom 20 percent fell from $4,500 to negative $4,300.
"For three straight years, overall life expectancy in the wealthiest nation in world history has been declining, often driven by deaths of desperation and despair: liver disease, drug overdoses, and suicide," Bernie Sanders noted.