Why Your Income Bracket Has Everything to Do With Your Health

Where do you see the strongest intersection of financial policy and public health? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by David Erickson, Director of Community Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, on Quora:

There is a strong connection between financial health and physical health and it plays out on many levels. You can see that how money flows and how financial policy influences that flow has a profound effect on the health of the public. For starters, having stable household finances is critical to reducing stress and improving health. We published a book with a nonprofit partner, Prosperity Now, on household financial health and one line that was so powerful was in Dr. Jason Purnell’s essay where he quoted a low-income renter who said: “If you want to lower my blood pressure, help me pay my electrical bill.” In that book,¬†What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities, and the Nation, there were many essays on polices and financial products to build wealth, create a financial cushion, smooth out spiky income and expenses that often catch low-income families in a lurch.

A college graduate will live almost ten years longer than a high school dropout and the most common reason to drop out of college is lack of funds. So having access to affordable student loans is an important way to improve your life chances and improve your health.

How you finance a neighborhood to be health promoting also requires financing. For example, access to fair and safe mortgages allows you to develop assets through home ownership (most of the time). Loans to grow small businesses can create jobs in a community and a job is powerful social determinant of health. Finance is essential to produce other neighborhood amenities that promote health including: parks, schools, clinics, and transportation. The connection between financial policy and public health at the neighborhood level is very strong indeed. It is why we often quote the Robert Wood Johnson’s Commission to Build a Healthier America’s observation that your ZIP Code is more important than your genetic code for your health.

I am less able to respond the second part of this question, but there are many connections between health and the home you live in. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website suggests that “three important and interrelated aspects of residential housing and their links to health: the physical conditions within homes; conditions in the neighborhoods surrounding homes; and housing affordability, which not only shapes home and neighborhood conditions but also affects the overall ability of families to make healthy choices.” For a detailed exploration of how housing affects health, see Enterprise Community Partner’s, “Health in Housing: Exploring the Intersection Between Housing and Health Care.”

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