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Life Expectancy is Impacted by Racial Disparities, Report Shows

— July 12, 2022

Life expectancy rates can vary vastly across races, research shows.

Researchers have found the life expectancy rates can be related to racial disparities, with these numbers varying state to state depending on each state’s demographics, according to a new review of death records and Census data from 1990 to 2019.

“Life expectancy is an important measure of the health of the entire population,” corresponding author Gregory Roth, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, said. “We know race, ethnicity and where you live all affect health, but we wanted to look at the long arc over many decades to understand where subpopulations have been, and where they are headed. Also, it is important to understand how race and place interact, so we looked at race/ethnicity groups within each state to see where disparities exist that need to be addressed.”

In the study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers led by Catherine O. Johnson, PhD, of the University of Washington, Seattle, reviewed data from “23 states, using regression models based on Census data and deidentified death records,” according to the paper.  They then specifically took a look at life expectancy rates for subgroups that reported being Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, or non-Hispanic White race or ethnicity.

Life Expectancy is Impacted by Racial Disparities, Report Shows
Photo by Cleyder Duque from Pexels

Overall, most states showed life span improvement 1990 and 2019 with the average life expectancy for women across all states increasing from “79.3 years in 1990 to 81.3 years in 2019. For men, the mean life expectancy across states increased from 72.6 years in 1990 to 76.3 years in 2019,” the authors reported.

When analyzing the subgroups more closely, however, the team noted substantial disparities across all three, independent of the average life expectancy for an entire state overall.  Without regarding race/ethnicity, disparities in life expectancy across states “decreased from 8.0 years and 12.2 years in 1990 to 7.9 and 7.8 years in 2019, for females and males, respectively,” they reported.

“When race/ethnicity was taken into account, disparities in life expectancy decreased, but the differences across states were greater than when race was not considered; 20.7 years for females and 24.5 years for males in 1990, decreasing to 18.5 years for females and 23.7 years for males in 2019,” they wrote, adding, “Despite the overall improvements, disparities in life expectancy persisted across all states within each race/ethnicity group.”

With females, non-Hispanic Black females had the lowest mean life expectancy across states but the highest improvement on average (6.9% increase) by 2019.  The average life expectancy for non-Hispanic Black females remained less than it did for non-Hispanic White and Hispanic females.

“For males,” the team wrote, “the greatest difference in life expectancies in 1990 was 24.5 years.  This occurred between non-Hispanic Black males in the District of Columbia and Hispanic males in Georgia.  The life expectancy for these non-Hispanic Black males was 59.4 years, versus 83.8 years for these Hispanic males that year.”

Overall, studies have demonstrated that the life expectancy of minorities is lower than that of the majority population.  There are many factors contributing to this disparity, including socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and exposure to environmental hazards.


Race Drives Disparities in Life Expectancy Across States

Life Expectancy for White, Black, and Hispanic Race/Ethnicity in U.S. States: Trends and Disparities, 1990 to 2019

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