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The Issue

Health

Our economic well-being impacts everything, including our health. Investments to improve health outcomes using the social determinants of health and to promote financial well-being are mutually supportive.

The conditions in which people are born, grow, work, and age determine their health. So it makes sense that individuals living paycheck to paycheck feel it in their health status. If they live in substandard housing in a food and bank desert as well, health suffers. If they don’t have access to a safe place to play, or medicine for a chronic condition, then their lack of wealth has, indeed, adversely impacted their health.

Like ripples made from a stone dropped in a lake, the move to economic security increases a person’s sense of agency and the ability to make sound choices. This forward thinking predicts wealth-building and health-promoting behavior. Wealth building and health improving occurs at the five major stages of our life cycle, and grantmakers are learning ways to impact each. AFN members find promise in these connections, and leverage them in their grantmaking.

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Our knee bones are connected to our shin bones, and our wealth and health are inextricably linked too

AFN’s brief The Health and Wealth Connection helps grantmakers connect the dots and explore programs that make a difference.

Why It’s Important

Given the strong connection between wealth and health, funders who invest in building assets are also investing in health.

Lower death rates

Lower rates of chronic diseases

Improved mental health

Better ability to function in daily life

Lower rates of smoking and excessive alcohol use

Lower obesity rates in children

Grantmaking Strategies

Health researchers are looking beyond the impact of income, education, and occupation to also study how overall wealth impacts our health. There are certainly biological consequences of chronic stress on our bodies. Our economic well-being can also determine our educational opportunities. Without assets, people just make ends meet, and are less able to have the future-oriented thinking that enables us to care for our health. Or worse, income instability—due to just-in-time scheduling and gig work—deprives families of an income cushion, which increases anxiety, stress, and a loss of a sense of control.

Given the strong connection between wealth and health, funders who invest in building assets are also investing in health. One way of achieving those dual aims is by pairing investments in financial well-being and health at critical stages in the life course. Funders have investment opportunities to spur health/wealth connections at each stage across the life course continuum from prenatal and early childhood through older adulthood.

Often, the most encouraging solutions integrate financial coaching and related tools into existing health programs. This may include savings tools, how to escape predatory debt, and guidance on how to achieve financial goals. In the 0-3 years stage, community development investments include affordable, quality child care and safe family-friendly neighborhood resources (e.g., libraries, parks, community centers). These free learning spaces can allow families to use savings for other investments. Other tactics to boost financial security in this early life stage link to CSAs, tax preparation, and small-dollar loan products. Solutions for older adulthood (50-70+) include accessible community health workers who help seniors access care, fill prescriptions, and remain financially secure and in their homes.

More programs serve the ages in between. MyPath Savings is a banking and savings model for youth in workforce programs. Participants are supported to open accounts, set a personal savings goal, and more. AFN is currently gathering knowledge on which strategies best serve millennial adult women, how to prevent women ages 45-60 from sliding into retirement poverty, how to use employers as a more effective platform for asset building, and more. By sharing smart grantmaking strategies and when along the lifecycle continuum they are most effective, AFN members can make their investments more effective.

“A resident of Rochester, NY, told me, ‘If you want to lower my blood pressure, help me pay my electricity bill.’”

Jason Q. Purnell | Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis