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It's Better To Be Wealthy And Healthy Than Poor And Ill

Rainer Zitelmann 24 August 2022


The author of this commentary poses the following question: If being rich is so terrible, why do hundreds of millions of people around the world regularly play the lottery? Why are there so many books, YouTube videos, seminars, etc. on how to get rich?

Rainer Zitelmann (pictured), a Germany-based entrepreneur, writer and academic who has analyzed public views about wealth, inequality and success, is unashamed to press the case for free enterprise. In this article, he examines the sometimes-hostile attitudes towards wealth and points out how strange these must appear when poverty and illness have often been the standard lot of humankind. The editors of this news service are happy to share these views and invite responses. The usual editorial disclaimers apply. Jump into the conversation! Email

For over a month, nobody knew which German had won the €23.2-million ($23.0 million) Lotto jackpot. According to the lottery company, the winner had been in a state of shock since the winning numbers were announced. He had delayed collecting his winnings, he said, because he first needed some time to process what so much money would mean to him. “In fact, I briefly weighed up whether I should even collect this large sum and whether I really wanted to change my life,” said the winner from Potsdam (near Berlin). In the end, he decided to collect his prize.

Two days later, a well-known journalist wrote a letter to the winner in Germany’s leading tabloid newspaper (Bild): "You’ve decided that it is better to be rich. I disagree. Wealth does not equate to happiness. Rich people get cancer just like poor people. Rich people get divorced and fight with their spouses. Rich people get stomach ulcers because they worry about holding on to their money. Rich people are afraid of covetous glances of the envious.”

If being rich is so terrible, why do hundreds of millions of people around the world regularly play the lottery? Why are there so many books, YouTube videos, seminars, etc. on how to get rich?

The rich live longer and are healthier
Of course, rich people can also get ill. But the saying “It’s better to be poor and healthy than rich and ill” is misleading. A study from the US shows that the difference in life expectancy between the poorest and richest one per cent of the income distribution was nearly 15 years for men and 10 years for women. While rich men lived to an average of 87.3 years, the poor lived to 72.7 years.

Even a little more money leads to better health. In her dissertation on “Reichtum in Deutschland” (“Wealth in Germany”), researcher Dorothee Spannagel investigated what it is that people worry about. The total population was compared with people who earn at least two and three times as much as the average citizen. The result: 22.8 per cent of the total population were “very worried” about their own health, compared with only 10.2 per cent of the higher earners. The researcher came to the clear conclusion: “The comparison with the state of health in the overall population can be summarized succinctly: As wealth increases, the proportion of people in good health grows.” The results of these surveys clearly show that the rich, compared with the overall population, “not only enjoy a better state of health, they are also more satisfied with the shape they are in.”

Yet poor health is by no means a direct consequence of a lack of money. People with a lower socio-economic status are much more likely to experience ill health than other people, but this is not the result of economic hardship but of a certain way of life. The reason is not so much to be found in the external conditions of life, but in people’s behavior: smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy food, and lack of exercise. And none of this has anything to do with money: smoking for a month is more expensive than the monthly fee for an exclusive gym; eating fast food is more expensive than cooking for yourself; alcohol is more expensive than home-squeezed orange juice. Overall, living an unhealthy life is more expensive than living a healthy life.

The topic of money leads to marital strife
Does money make you unhappy? Or is it rather the lack of money that makes you unhappy? Arguments over money play a major role in every divorce, but researchers found that money is also a major point of contention in relationships. 

Lauren Papp of the University of Wisconsin asked 100 couples with children to keep a diary over two weeks. In it, men and women were asked to note down separately which topics caused disputes during each day, how long each dispute lasted and what it was about. The result: there was no other topic couples argued about as tenaciously and persistently as money. Most of the couples felt that disputes about money threatened their joint future, and with no other source of conflict did the couples find it so difficult to find a solution?

Business psychologist Erich Kirchler from the University of Vienna analyzed what it is married couples talk about and what they argue about. To do this, he had 40 couples keep a diary for a year. Finances were the most conflict-charged topics of all. The couples argued repeatedly about what to spend money on and how much money to spend.

Conduct the following experiment yourself: for one month, write down everything you worry about. This can be anything: your job, your health, raising children, finances, partnership, body weight, etc. After a month, evaluate. How many of these problems would not have occurred if you had ten million dollars? You will see that there were quite a few worries that you would have been spared. But you will also see that there are many worries that you would have had even with so many millions. For these worries, write down whether they would have been easier to bear or whether the difficulties associated with them could have been better solved if you had significantly more money.

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