Wondering how long someone might live? You might want to just check their bank account. Wealthy people have a longer life expectancy, researchers have found. But the question is: why?

A Harvard Medical School study that has been following 500 former Harvard students and inner city Boston men since 1937 found that the the men who pursued higher education had measurably longer lives than those who did not attend college. Workers with college degrees on average earn more than those without, but there may be more factors at play.

James Smith, senior economist at the research group Rand, points out that pursuing a college degree shows an individual’s interest in his future. A person focused on long-term success may be less likely to pursue destructive activities with short-term benefits such as drugs and alcohol.

Also important to a person’s life expectancy is his access to quality healthcare. Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute notes that, “If you have better insurance, you might get tested earlier, have better access to care, and be better able to follow complicated treatments.”

Conversely, being healthy also increases one’s ability to get rich. Healthy people are able to work longer and therefore accrue greater wealth. The ill may not be able to work and/or suffer the burden of costly treatments and medications. Socioeconomic health disparities are even greater in young Americans, which means with future generations, the life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor is likely to widen.

So while it may remain true that money can’t buy you love, it just might buy you a few more years. How you spend those years is up to you.

[US News and World Report]