Infectious Disease

The life expectancy gap between black and white Americans is narrowing by 48.9%

October 11, 2021

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According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the life expectancy gap between black and white Americans has narrowed from 7 to 3.6 years over the past 3 decades.

More specifically, the life expectancy of black Americans improved from 69.1 years in 1990 to 74.9 years in 2018, while white Americans had life expectancy of 76.1 years in 1990 and 78.5 years in 2018. Janet M. Currie, MA, PhD, the Henry Putnam professor of economics and public affairs and co-director of the Princeton Center for Health and Wellbeing, told Healio Primary Care.

The US is now lagging behind many European countries, including poorer countries, in terms of life expectancy.

“Although there is still a gap between the life expectancy of blacks and whites, between 1990 and 2018 the gap has closed by 48.9%. This is mainly because the life expectancy of black Americans has improved, ”Currie said called. “Black Americans won compared to Europeans, while white Americans in rich areas started out with a similar life expectancy as Europeans, but then fell behind.”

Janet M. Currie

Currie and colleagues analyzed national and international death rates from 1990 to 2018 to determine age-specific mortality trends and racial differences in life expectancy in high-income and low-income countries in the US compared to England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain. The researchers stratified the age groups into 0 to 4, 5 to 19, 20 to 64 and 65 to 79 years.

Changes in life expectancy by age group

In 1990, the life expectancy gap between black and white children in the youngest age group was “huge,” according to Currie and colleagues. For children ages 0-4, the death rate was 4.2 deaths per 1,000 black children compared to 1.82 deaths per 1,000 white children. Both death rates fell to 2.31 per 1,000 black children and 1.13 per 1,000 white children by 2018. The improvements in life expectancy occurred faster between 1990 and 2005, followed by “slow progress” from 2005 to 2018, the researchers write.

Children aged 5 to 19 years in the US had a higher mortality rate than children of the same age group in Europe during the study period. In 2005, the gap between European children and white American children was larger than the gap between black and white American children, according to the researchers.

Among adults aged 20 to 64, the death rate of black Americans has been falling rapidly, especially in the lowest-income areas, Currie and colleagues reported. In the highest income areas of the United States, the mortality gap between black and white Americans had decreased to 0.7 deaths per 1,000 people by 2018. In contrast, in the lowest-income areas, the gap was 1.47 per 1,000 people.

The data also showed that black and white adults ages 65 to 79 experienced decreases in mortality in high and low-income areas. In 2018, white Americans had an overall death rate of 27 deaths per 1,000 people. Black Americans in low-income areas had a death rate of 32 deaths per 1,000 people.

The life expectancy of black and white Americans converged between 1990 and 2012. During this time, researchers found that black people’s life expectancy improved faster than white Americans. However, improvements in both groups stalled after 2014, initially at a plateau and then between 2015 and 2018. While life expectancy in Europe also declined over this period, it remained higher than American life expectancy. The lack of improvements in life expectancy may have been caused by “the plateau in mortality improvements from cardiovascular disease,” wrote Currie and colleagues. They also attributed the recent decline in life expectancy in the US to the opioid epidemic, gun violence and high child mortality rates. Meanwhile, improvements in cancer care and HIV prevention had the biggest impact on improving life expectancy in the United States, they wrote.

Recently shortened life expectancy

Healio Primary Care previously reported that life expectancy in the US fell more sharply from 2019 to 2020. CDC data showed that overall life expectancy for Americans decreased by 1.5 years. COVID-19 was a major contributor to the decline, as well as accidental injuries, homicides, diabetes, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. The life expectancy of black people in the United States fell from 74.7 years to 71.8 years. For white people, life expectancy fell from 79.9 years to 77.6 years.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced aggregate life expectancy by more than 9 million years, according to results published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers found that black and Hispanic people lost more than twice as many quality-adjusted life years per capita as white people.

“Despite the sharp improvement in the death rate among black Americans over the past three decades, a dramatic gap remains, and that gap has widened again in recent years,” wrote Currie and colleagues. “It is important to understand what medical, social, and political developments have helped extend the longevity of black Americans through 2012, and how these positive changes can be amplified in the decades to come with the ultimate goal of completely closing the racial longevity gap in the United States close.”

References:

The life expectancy gap between black and white Americans will close by nearly 50% in 30 years. https://spia.princeton.edu/news/life-expectancy-gap-between-black-and-white-americans-closes-nearly-50-30-years. Published September 28, 2021. Accessed October 5, 2021.

Preliminary life expectancy estimates for 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/vsrr015-508.pdf. Published July 2021. Accessed October 6, 2021.

Schwandt, H., et al. PNAS. 2021; doi: 10.1073 / pnas.2104684118.

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