AT THE turn of the twentieth century, a newborn white American could expect to live for around 48 years. That was 15 years longer than a newborn African-American could expect. Improvements in hygiene, medicine and other public-health measures led those numbers to rise dramatically. By mid-century, life expectancy for African-Americans had nearly doubled, to 61 years, while for white Americans it rose to 69. By 2017 the gap had narrowed further, to three and a half years: 75.3 for African-Americans, 78.8 for whites. But Hispanic Americans outlive them both, to an average of 81.8 years. In other words, both races have progressed significantly, but gaps remain. This same pattern exists across a number of metrics.
The most disturbing aspect of this pattern is not just the enduring gap in outcomes between black and white Americans, though it has narrowed markedly. It is that, as the work of Anne Case and Angus Deaton, both economists at Princeton, has shown, life expectancy fell for all demographic groups of Americans between 2014 and 2017 for the first time since 1993. The rise in mortality rates has been especially stark for whites without college degrees, owing to what they call “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicide and diseases caused by heavy drinking.
Publication Date: 20 May 2021
Publication Site: The Economist