Life Expectancy for U.S. Blacks Is Shorter Than for Whites

THURSDAY March 1, 2012 -- White men in the United States live an average of about seven years longer than black men, while white women live more than five years longer than black women, a new study shows.

But when the University of California, Los Angeles-led team of researchers conducted a state-by-state analysis of life expectancy, they made a surprising discovery: In states where disparities were smallest, the differences often weren't due to blacks living longer, but whites dying younger than the national average.

"In health disparities research, there is an assumption that large disparities are bad because vulnerable populations are not doing as well as they should, while areas with small disparities are doing a better job at health equity," lead researcher Dr. Nazleen Bharmal, a clinical instructor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in a university news release. "In our study, we show that the reason there are small disparities in life expectancy is because white populations are doing as poorly as black populations, and the goal in these states should be to raise health equity for all groups."

However, the overall findings still highlight the need to improve the health of black Americans, Bharmal and colleagues said.

They examined death certificate data for nearly 18 million people who died in the United States between 1997 and 2004. The data included both health-related and non-health-related causes of death, such as murders and accidents.

Overall, the national life expectancy was nearly 75 for white men, 68 for black men, 80 for white women and 75 for black women. In every state, differences in life expectancy were smaller between white and black women than between white and black men.

Washington, D.C., had the largest life expectancy disparities between blacks and whites (13.8 years for men and 8.6 years for women) while New Mexico had the smallest disparities (3.8 years for men and 2.5 years for women).

Other states with the largest disparities (more than eight years) for men were New Jersey, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois. States with the largest disparities for women (more than six years) were Illinois, Rhode Island, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Florida and Nebraska.

Other states with the smallest disparities (less than six years) among men were Kentucky, West Virginia, Nevada, Oklahoma, Washington, Colorado, New York and Arizona. In Kentucky, West Virginia, Nevada and Oklahoma, the smaller disparities were due to a combination of black men living longer than the national average and white men having shorter lives than the national average.

Among women, states with the smallest disparities (less than four years) were New Mexico, New York, West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama. In all these states, black women lived longer than the national average and white women lived shorter lives.

The study was published in the February issue of the journal Health Services Research.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging offers advice for healthy aging.

Posted: March 2012


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