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Black-White Life Expectancy Gap

Life Expectancy Disparity in the U.S.

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Updated August 16, 2007

A study, published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) examined the causes of the gap in life expectancy between whites (Caucasians) and blacks (African-Americans) in the US. In general, whites live longer than blacks, although that gap is narrowing.

To accomplish the research objectives, the study team examined statistics from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System from 1983 to 2003.

The Black-White Life Expectancy Gap 1983-1993 – Women

From 1983 to 1993, the gap between the life expectancy of black female and white females increased 0.5 years, mostly due to an increase of deaths from HIV in black women (0.4 years) and slower declines of heart disease in black women compared to white women (0.1 years). There was progress in closing the gap between black and white women in the area of stroke (-0.1 years).

The Black-White Life Expectancy Gap 1983-1993 – Men

The gap between black and white men increased by 2 years from 1983-1993. These changes were caused by increased differences in death from HIV (1.1 years), homicide (0.5 years) and heart disease (0.3 years).

The Black-White Life Expectancy Gap 1993-2003 – Women

From 1993-2003, the gap in life expectancy between black and white women decreased by 1 year (from a 5.59 year gap to a 4.54 year gap). This was caused by a shrinking of the gap caused by heart disease (-0.2 years), homicide (-0.2 years) and injuries (-0.1 years).

The Black-White Life Expectancy Gap 1993-2003 – Men

The shrinkage in the gap in life expectancy between black and white men was large from 1993-2003. The gap decreased 25% (from a gap of 8.44 years in 1993 to a gap of 6.33 years in 2003). Nearly all of this gap was caused by an improvement in the life expectancy of young black men (ages 15-49), which resulted in a 2 year reduction of the gap. This gap was seen in a reduction of homicide (-0.6 years), HIV deaths (-0.6 years) and injuries (-0.3 years).

What's Next?

Work needs to continue to close the gap in life expectancy. The main areas where the difference is still greatest is heart disease, homicide, HIV and infant mortality. Research, projects and education in these areas are necessary to eliminate the life expectancy gap.

Source:

Sam Harper, PhD; John Lynch, PhD; Scott Burris, JD; George Davey Smith, MD. Trends in the Black-White Life Expectancy Gap in the United States, 1983-2003. JAMA. 2007;297:1224-1232.

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