Government statisticians are seeing a growing gap in life expectancy levels between 65-year-old haves and 65-year-old have nots.

Researchers at the Congressional Budget Office discuss that gap in a discussion of the effects the gap might have on Social Security and Medicare.

Traditional, white U.S. women have lived about 5 years longer than white U.S. men, and white U.S. residents have lived about 5 years longer than African American U.S. residents.

The longevity gaps between men and women and between white U.S. residents and African Americans have narrowed in recent years, but the gap between life expectancy levels for better-educated and less-educated U.S. residents, and between higher-income and lower-income U.S. residents, has widened, the researchers report.

In 2000, for example, the difference in life expectancy at age 65 between members of the highest and lowest socioeconomic U.S. groups had increased to 1.6 years, up from 0.3 years in 1980, the CBO researchers write.

Different rates of mortality from heart disease and cancers other than lung disease seem to be responsible for much of the widening gap, the researchers write.

Longer life expectancy among higher-income retirees could increase the strain on the Social Security system and tend to benefit the higher-income beneficiaries more than the lower-income beneficiaries, the researchers write.

But the researchers note that estimating the effects of the longevity gap on Medicare is more difficult.

If healthy beneficiaries who are inexpensive to cover are the ones who live longer, the longevity gap might not have much effect on Medicare spending, the researchers write.