Family Finances

Exploring the Important Link Between Health and Wealth

November 5, 2019  • Rhett Buttle & Financial Security Program

Over the past several months, the Aspen Institute’s prestigious programs, the Financial Security Program and the Health, Medicine and Society Program, embarked on a unique collaboration to explore the link between good health and financial wellbeing.

The connection between financial wellness and health is significant, with evidence showing that increased financial security is linked to improved health outcomes and improved quality of life. What’s more, finance and health are among the fastest-growing sectors of the economy — in the US, they comprise more than 40 percent of GDP — and both are targets of innovation.

Research has found that more than half of an individual’s life expectancy in the DC region could be explained by education and economic factors. According to another report, income growth not only correlates to life expectancy increases, but also to a decrease in the risk of chronic illness and an increase in access to resources that promote longevity and health. Other research has shown that financial insecurity is a serious source of mental stress, reducing an individual’s productivity and job performance. And yet more research notes that poor physical health directly impacts financial stability, increasing the likelihood of personal bankruptcy from medical debt.

Stakeholders across public, private, and philanthropic sectors are increasingly convinced of the necessity of a multidisciplinary approach that would result in solutions designed to tackle issues related to both economic and health inequality. Some of these efforts are being driven by the changes we are seeing in our economy — for example, the growth of the “gig” economy, high levels of debt, record income disparities, and challenges to retirement security that are all leaving their mark on an individual’s health. With economic structures in transition, entrepreneurs are beginning to link up with care providers and health advocates are promoting microenterprise. So, what does the link between health and wealth mean in this evolving economy?

Given these developments and questions, our collaboration sought to explore the connection between these two fields. Our work has manifested itself in two ways.

A Set of Exploratory Roundtables

First, the programs co-hosted a set of roundtables — one in Washington, DC, and one in San Francisco, CA — with key stakeholders from both fields. Each roundtable included approximately 20 to 30 sharp minds, including public health, healthcare, and financial security leaders from across academia, business, community-based and advocacy organizations, and other appropriate experts. The roundtables began a necessary dialogue, promoted an open space, and fostered trust in order to identify and discover areas of partnership.

Integrating Health & Wealth into the Aspen Ideas Festival

In addition to the roundtables, we brought the conversation to Aspen Ideas: Health (the three-day opening event of the Aspen Ideas Festival). There, we produced a track (or “theme”) focused exclusively on Health & Wealth. Content included a conversation with the US Surgeon General and the President of the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia, who explored ways that their jobs and missions are both fundamentally geared toward advancing the health of America’s families, communities, and economy. We also featured several business leaders who spoke to the business case for thinking about health and wealth together, and how both sectors can do more to ensure that the end goal of business aligns with helping households experience greater wellbeing. Another panel looked at how a living wage can create better health outcomes, and another explored how the growing burden of medical debt is one of the most common financial burdens for Americans. Attendees left increasingly aware that health and financial wellness are fundamentally linked.

What’s Next

These times require an authentic conversation about the substantial financial challenges facing our families — and increasing financial insecurity more broadly. Examining the connection between health and financial security is at the heart of this — and, we believe, the right place to start.

It is our hope that in partnership with several of the Institute’s policy programs — the Financial Security Program and the Health, Medicine and Society Program — we can explore an effort that combines each program’s networks, learnings, and expertise. Working together, the programs can move forward with the opportunity to examine the common essential building blocks of healthcare, medicine, wellness, and financial well-being. The true power in this effort comes from the ability to examine problems in new ways, integrate networks, and explore innovative solutions that stem from real collaboration. Through public convenings — and intensive, off-the-record dialogues with leaders from a wide cross-section of private, public, and nonprofit institutions — the Aspen Institute can play a lead role in advancing a conversation on how to improve health and wealth in tandem.

Long-lasting improvement on the issues of financial and health inequality requires multidisciplinary solutions that embrace the inter-relatedness of these issues. Improving health outcomes will allow people to live longer and healthier lives, and participate more fully in the economy. Coming together with a diverse set of committed leaders, we can effect change and improve the lives of millions.