Race and sex still impact life expectancy in America

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Overall, the average life expectancy in the United States continues its inexorable, salutary rise. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported that life expectancy has increased by 11 percent in the last 40 years. For as long as such statistics have been recorded, there has been a substantial gap between the life expectancies between black and white Americans. However, while that gap has diminished since 1970, in 2010 white Americans could still expect to live 4 years longer on average than black Americans.

Current trends show that life expectancy at birth has increased overall from 71 years to 79 years from 1970 to 2010. For whites, this increase went from 71 to 78 years. The increase in life expectancy for the black population was steeper, going from 64 to 75 years. This represents a 17 percent increase.

The difference in life expectancy can be attributed to higher death rates for the black population from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and perinatal conditions. Homicide was an additional factor contributing to shorter life expectancies for black males, who had a life expectancy on average 4.7 years lower than that of white males, while stroke was more common as a cause of death among black females, contributing to their 3.3 fewer years of life expectancy than white females.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky comments on these disparities. These trends indicate that it may be necessary to develop targeted programs related specifically to those conditions - for example, homicide and stroke prevention - that are contributing to the gap in life expectancies of black and white Americans. These targeted efforts may help to close this gap even further in the long run.