Study finds life expectancy gap between black and white Americans narrowed by nearly 50% in 30 years
The persistent gaps in life expectancy between black and white Americans have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet that gap has narrowed by nearly 50% in three decades, largely thanks to improvements among black Americans, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Co-authored by researchers at the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University, the study analyzed data from 1990 to 2018 to compare death rates between black and white Americans, through the lens of place. They also compared the United States with Europe to provide a benchmark comparison.
They found that in 1990, black Americans lived seven years less than whites. But by 2018, that number had fallen to 3.6 years. Improving life expectancy in poorer counties has particularly helped close the gap, in large part because black Americans are more likely to live in poorer areas. Reductions in black deaths caused by cancer, HIV, homicide, and fetal and newborn disease have been particularly important in closing the gaps.
Yet life expectancy has stalled for all groups in the United States since 2012, and white Americans have fallen behind Europeans in both rich and poor areas. The opioid epidemic in the United States is a major cause of these declines, but researchers suggest more work should be done to investigate other factors. Had the improvements continued at the previous rate, the racial gap in life expectancy would have closed by 2036.
“It is important to recognize the very real gains that have occurred over the past 30 years and understand the reasons for them,” said Janet M. Currie, Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and Co-Director of the Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellness. “Improving access to health care and social protection programs have all helped improve life expectancy among black Americans. Yet there is this puzzling reversal in positive trends for all groups since 2012 that we need to better understand. “
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have highlighted the disproportionate health gap between black and white Americans, but the researchers wanted to quantify these differences in terms of trends in life expectancy over the years. preceding the pandemic. To do this, they analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System and the National Center for Health Statistics managed by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Their goal was to see if racial differences in life expectancy evolved differently in the wealthiest and poorest regions of the United States. They ranked US counties based on their poverty rates and placed them in fixed population size groups. This allowed them to analyze trends by age and race in places with the same relative poverty rates. Consideration of age is important in determining whether changes in life expectancy are based on a person’s stage of life; for example, people over 65 are eligible for Medicare, which could play a role in increasing life expectancy.
They also wanted to understand how the United States compares to Europe to determine whether mortality in wealthier parts of the country is more similar to that in European countries, or whether rich and poor Americans tend to be at the bottom. dragged. They collaborated with researchers from nine European countries, including the Czech Republic, England, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Spain to analyze all data in a similar framework. These countries represent a range of economic conditions.
Over the past three decades, white Americans have fallen further and further behind Europeans. In Europe, even relatively poor countries like Portugal were able to catch up with richer countries by 2018 in terms of life expectancy, while the United States lagged behind. At the same time, the life expectancy of black Americans started well below European and white American rates in 1990, but has increased at a faster rate than European life expectancy.
As in the United States, European life expectancy also stagnated after 2014, suggesting that there may be a common element. Previous work has linked the flattening of life expectancy in the United States to a lack of further improvements in the fight against cardiovascular disease, and this may also be true in Europe, suggest the authors.
Interestingly, there were significant improvements in the health of infants and children, in all three groups, but especially among black Americans. Social protection programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Earned Income Tax Credit, along with lower pollution levels in poor areas, are all major contributors to the economy. reduction in mortality. There is also potential for the United States to catch up with Europe by investing in maternal and child health.
Life expectancy in the United States in 2020 saw the biggest drop since World War II
“Mortality inequality between black and white Americans by age, location and cause and compared to Europe, 1990 to 2018” PNAS (2021). DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2104684118, www.pnas.org/content/118/40/e2104684118
Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
The life expectancy gap between black and white Americans has closed nearly 50% in 30 years, study finds (2021, September 28)
retrieved September 28, 2021
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