Life Expectancy is Increasing and Health Inequality is Down

We have heard a great deal about increases in mortality among white, non-hispanic, middle-aged Americans (especially women) but to state the case is also to note that this is one group among many. In an excellent new paper, Currie and Schwandt discuss the good news overall–life expectancy is up and health inequality is down, in some cases dramatically. Here, for example, is life expectancy at birth by gender and year.

Life expectancy 1Even more impressive is that life expectancy has increased significantly across all poverty groups (as measured by county poverty levels). In the graph below, for example, the blue triangles indicate life expectancy in 1990 (men on the left, women on the right). Note that as the poverty level of the county increases along the horizontal axis life expectancy falls. The green dots are life expectancy in 2010. Once again, as poverty increases, life expectancy falls. What’s remarkable, however, is how much life expectancy increased between 1990 and 2010 in counties of all poverty levels.

The news is good and may get better. Between 1990 and 2010 mortality rates for children ages 0-4 fell especially dramatically and especially so in poor counties. Moreover, since mortality at older ages is often baked in LifeExpectancy 2by poor health at younger ages there is significant opportunity for these gains to persist over time.

The New York Times also reported yesterday on inequality in life expectancy across race. It’s down.

Infant mortality is down by more than a fifth among blacks since the late 1990s, double the decline for whites. Births to teenage mothers, which tend to have higher infant mortality rates, have dropped by 64 percent among blacks since 1995, faster than for whites.

Blacks are still at a major health disadvantage compared with whites. But evidence of black gains has been building and has helped push up the ultimate measure — life expectancy. The gap between blacks and whites was seven years in 1990. By 2014, the most recent year on record, it had shrunk to 3.4 years, the smallest in history, with life expectancy at 75.6 years for blacks and 79 years for whites.

Part of the reason has been bad news for whites, namely the opioid crisis. The crisis, which has dominated headlines — some say unfairly, given racial disparities — has hit harder in white communities, bringing down white life expectancy and narrowing the gap.

But there also has been real progress for blacks. The rate of deaths by homicide for blacks decreased by 40 percent from 1995 to 2013, according to Andrew Fenelon, a researcher with the National Center for Health Statistics, compared with a 28 percent drop for whites. The death rate from cancer fell by 29 percent for blacks over that period, compared with 20 percent for whites.

The Currie and Schwandt paper is also very good on describing how these estimates are produced and some of the data issues with making these estimates. It’s a must read for those interested in these issues.


Infant mortality is down by more than a fifth among blacks since the late 1990s, double the decline for whites. Births to teenage mothers, which tend to have higher infant mortality rates, have dropped by 64 percent among blacks since 1995, faster than for whites.

So are they brave enough to suggest welfare reform is part of the reason?

Presumably improved sex ed is not at all related.

That's not all.

"The rate of deaths by homicide for blacks decreased by 40 percent from 1995 to 2013, ..., compared with a 28 percent drop for whites."

So are they brave enough to suggest that policing is part of the reason?

If you look at the statistical trends, 1991 was just about the worst year for black behavior: crack, murder, AIDS, illegitimate births, etc.. The L.A. Riots in April 1992 were a nadir, and then blacks slowly started the climb back up.

My guess is that the introduction of gangsta rap around 1988 (e.g., the "Straight Outta Compton" album by NWA) was a cultural disaster for blacks that contributed to the early 1990s disaster. It provided a new memetic technology for indoctrinating adolescents with extremely bad advice.

"It provided a new memetic technology for indoctrinating adolescents with extremely bad advice."

I like this. Can you provide some examples of means for disseminating good advice?

The printing press?

I think you are right about the devastating effects of bad culture; however, Horhe asked a serious and legitimate question to which you didn't seriously respond. Those affected by the bad advice, I suspect, don't read newspapers, much less the comments section of MR. I doubt you favor censorship, so what's your advice? Our current leader seems to be obsessed with Beyonce and JZ, which likely doesn't help; but what about Reagan and Bush, Sr? By your telling, the worst happened during their tenures. Is culture impervious to government?

I included a graph of black male homicide offending trends by age in my review in Taki's Magazine of the NWA biopic "Straight Outta Compton:"

One question is how much respect our respectable institutions give white entertainment executives who facilitated gangsta rap. For example, USC has just honored Jimmy Iovine by creating the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy in response to a large donation after they sold their Beats by Dre headphones to Apple

It might have sent a message, on the other hand, that a university won't launder the dirty money a white executive made by putting out records encouraging blacks to shoot each other.

Let me give a more serious - or at elast verbose - version of Steve's respone.

All methods of communication can dissemenitate ideas. Recipients have some capacity to judge those ideas and filter out the bad ones. Idea-vendors looking for a market have (imperfect) incentives to choose good ideas.

Thus communication has a weak tendency to disseminate good ideas anyway. But various cultural phenomena (e.g. radical Islam) can overcome this and push bad ideas with vigour. Some such tendencies are associated with particular art-forms, the association of gangsta-behaviour with gansta-rap is one such case.

Thank you, Vivian.

I asked because, on the one hand, I am aware of the use of songs, catchy proverbs, aphorisms and short poems to promote socially beneficial habits, attitudes and so on. Keeping in mind that we have a wide palette for what can be considered socially desirable, we can find examples of this from Benjamin Franklin to cartoons with life lessons and to communist societies inculcating beliefs in social equalitarianism, camaraderie etc. But, on the other hand, there comes a point where such means or even the objects of their use are considered passe, declasse or even cynical (regardless of how useful they are), and will not have the desired effect anymore.

So, what do you do to counter the influence of gangsta rap in the ghetto if Whoopi Goldberg movies like Sister Act are considered cliche? Do you get some sort of traitor to his class gangsta to rap about how awesome a stable family life and diligence in school and in finding a trade are? Was Christian rock a sort of response to the hysteria regarding Satanism in subgenres of rock&roll?

I don't know if I made myself understood here.

Comments section of MR.

Sesame Street

Curating the "Trending Now" facebook feed?

Then, after 1992, rap became wholesome, family friendly and in accord with upstanding moral values.

The 1992 Rodney King riots offered a pretty horrifying picture to blacks of what they had become in just a few years.

Look, I realize a lot of people like gangsta rap and don't want to feel guilty about its effects on 85 IQ black youths who took it seriously about how to behave, but look at the data trends for that era. Nobody who reads this blog ever took seriously raps about how to be crack dealer, but some people did. A lot of them are dead or in prison now.

Check out data trends like homicide rates by age by race. And look at homicide trends by city and state.

I've met a lot of people with poor education and who probably have low scores on standardized tests who have far greater ability to understand the general nature of the world we live in that those who score well into the "genius" range on those standardized tests.

Me too and it amazes me. Some forms of naiveté seem to not be decreased by education and/or IQ. For example the low IQ seem to not have believed the ideas of Paul Erlich and the radical environmentalist profits of doom in the 1970's, they do not seem to buy anti-gmo, anti-vaccination, organic food blather as much the college educated. Of course they do seem to fall for karate.

But who is going to mess with me when I'm wearing these pants?

I'll take this more seriously when it corresponds with higher level of homicide/assault rates among rural whites who listened to glorification of anti-social behavior like theft (ex. Turpin Hero, extremely popular folk ballad c.a 18th century Britain/America), domestic violence/murder (ex. Pretty Polly, extremely popular folk ballad c.a. 19th century rural South), and murder (ex. anything from Johnny Cash).

Right, 'cause we have great data sets from the 18th century.

I know Johnny Cash is old but he ain't that old.

Given the fairly constant enjoyment of hip-hop from the 1980s onward and the ups and downs of criminality/violence (mainly downs) leads me to believe the, "Black music kills" theory seems a tad weak.

I tend to disagree with Stevey Sailer on most everything. But this time, IMHO, he has a valid POV. Having worked first-hand with members of that culture, I have long maintained that some black American subcultures have been doing quite a bit more than anyone else to keep each other down. I won't go so far as to attribute causation to gangsta rap, but gangsta rap does seem to me to have some association with the subcultural phenomena I observed. And what I observed was a race to emulate the bottom of the social scales.

I think Sailer (as usual) attributes a symptom to the cause. The cause is poverty and the dysfunction that breeds to the point where it is self reinforcing. People write and sing about what they know. In rural poor white areas they sang about murder, theft, etc...Rarely does anyone suggest that violent British folk songs or American bluegrass songs *cause* this but rather (at most) reflect the environment they lived in. If anything hip hop is simply symptomatic of the environment that some black Americans live in.

And this also helped curb infant mortality among blacks...?
To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

fewer pregnant women on drugs would make a difference, but I don't know if that actually happened.

Black teen birthrates, which had been falling in the early and mid-1980s shot up in the early 1990s.

I realize that these data trends are not well known, but I've spent a lot of time looking at social science time series. 1984 was a good year for blacks, but 1991 stands out as a peak year for black bad behavior. Obviously, that had a lot to do with crack, but rappers like NWA were spreading the code of the crack dealers to impressionable youth.

Either that or speaking openly about the realities experienced by many blacks positively impacted the way they responded to that reality.

I do believe that the "glorification" in some of that kind of rap can negatively influence some. But perhaps it has also opened up discourse to the extent that a lot of people are both aware of and more able to openly discuss cultural aspects which negatively affect African American communities, most especially with respect to gang violence.

Some people believe music and art saying x have no effect but that a teacher telling the same folks x has a huge effect, but I think both have very small effects.

Here's what I wrote about the NWA biopic in my movie review in Taki's:

N.W.A’s malignant influence on American social history shouldn’t be forgotten. The national black youth homicide rate had dropped to a moderate level in the mid-1980s, before surging to apocalyptic heights during the 1990–94 crack wars. A 2011 Obama administration report showed that homicide offending rates for blacks 14 to 24 roughly tripled from 1984 to 1993 (see Figure 22b), while murder rates steadily declined for blacks 25 and older, who, perhaps not coincidentally, were too old to care much about new rappers like N.W.A.

When N.W.A released their first blockbuster gangsta-rap album, Straight Outta Compton, in August 1988, crack was still more common on the periphery of the country than in the heartland. For example, in Chicago in October 1988, I let three undercover cops peer out my apartment window to spy on Eddie the cocaine dealer across the street as he hit the pipe with his customers. When I asked the cops if Eddie was smoking this new drug that was in the news, crack, they replied, “He’s freebasing. There’s no crack in Chicago.”

Or at least there wasn’t all that much crack yet.

Crack dealing and gangsta rap enjoyed a symbiotic relationship as groups like N.W.A egged on black youths to murder one another in turf wars. West Coast hip-hop functioned as a mind virus infecting impressionable young brains across the land with virulent memes about how a real man reacts to life’s frustrations: with homicidal savagery.

Today, Ice Cube stars in family comedy movies, and Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine sold their Beats by Dre headphone company to Apple for $3 billion.

Rap is a music and culture consumed largely by white, middle-class America. Why has this not impacted the primary consumers of the genre?

I'm sure Sailer will push some backwards half baked genetics "argument."

Taking the (racist) leftist, critical approach: because rap music is something for white people to observe and be entertained by, not something that is instructional to them. According to racist liberals (this is what undergrad sociology is teaching), whites enjoy rap music mostly as outside observers fetishizing their fear of blacks.

"The news is good and may get better."

So, life expectancy for whites is falling, but why are we worrying about that?

The overall figures are better for whites and blacks but whites less so and it seems like the opiate problem is one of those temporary setbacks before we reach a new equilibrium.

The figures on life expectancy at birth are for sex, not for gender. Newborns don't have a gender distinct from their birth sex. This is a common error in labeling graphs.

Can you please explain? Are you referring to one of those newfangled transgender hobbyhorses?

Meaning is driven by authorial intent. We all understand what they meant. Stop with this ridiculous theory of language.

As a linugistic conservative I agree with asher. Though I will add an old fashioned reason: Words have gender, people have sex.

Some people are born with both parts. An altogether different issue from those who are convinced they were born in the wrong body.

All you need to know is only the good die young.

In the late 1980's, radio-talk-guy Rush Limbaugh teased feminists who opposed men ogling women (sex objects!) by saying, "I'm not a misogynist. I'm a lesbian trapped in a man's body." He was making fun of the loony tune left. Today the loony tune left is ever more serious.

The more stupid, Zombie Obama regime thinks the 1964 Civil Rights Act covers people that think they are the opposite sex when in fact (biological fact) they are the opposite sex. You cannot make up this stuff.

I dunno. It's strange, and I don't think it's reasonable to go any further than that. Since I haven't experienced that, I do not feel qualified to comment on it.

Excellent troll. +1

This is why, although I am at heart a black female, I prefer to identify as an Asian female for the higher life expectancy.

I'd like to see the stats for Chicago.

What is the rate for working blacks vs nonworking blacks?

Life expectancy is very good for us wealthy folks, and, just think, we get to draw more from Social Security because we live longer.

The richest 10% at 55 years old will live an extra 34.9 years.

The lowest 10% at 55 years old will live an extra 22.6 years.

Life is good.

It's better to be rich than poor, pretty banal thing to note.

Yep, life is good. On the other hand, "us wealthy folks", on average, pay more into the Social Security fund than do our poorer counterparts. Yet, lifetime benefits are a higher percentage of the dollars contributed for the low end of contributors, even with their lower lifespans, than they are for the high end of contributors. Of course, I'm talking about pre-tax contributions and distributions--a fact not taken into account in any of these studies. Please remember and mention these things the next time you suggest that the system is rigged in favor of "the wealthy" when in fact the goal is to achieve a greater amount of redistribution within the system than already exists. I have no problem with that per se, so long as the facts and arguments are honestly presented. And, the following study was for the top 20 percent versus the bottom 20 percent.

1) The above is a little off and only is for men who are now 76 years old. 2) The 10 year gap is already much smaller as younger poor people smoke much less compared to those born in 1940.

3) But the real equalizer will be the coming health pills that aren't expected to cost very much, especially over time. As it stands right now, half of the upper 50% get the luxury of several added years (from around 85) where they no longer recognize family members or themselves. But that should be cured as well so no worries....

Boooorrrriiinnng. Let them die. What this country needs is a good old-fashioned race war. Same race, same face! SS SS wat u say?

Genuinely counting posts until Sailer showed up to go "But what about...."

Yes, in any post about race on the Internet, you can always expect a racist-as-hell Steve Sailer comment. What a poor put-upon white man!

And we are lucky that he is willing to do so. Because few people in the legacy media are willing to touch such topics. He is. He is also able to write about them in an interesting and original way.

So, personally, I would think if you do not like his conclusions - and I dislike them less every post he makes - you should provide a better alternative. This is a topic that we should be talking about, as is rap lyrics, but no one much else is brave enough to do so.

Yes the world sadly bereft of criticism of hip hop. Come to think of it, I've never heard anyone criticize the social mores of rap anywhere and certainly not in public media. No, never.

positive news! in light of existential dreary outcomes with meteorites flying all over the place out there . . . these fractals that took place on little old planet earth, are gems, 2b mined, in the future of whatever wtf that is . . .

One interesting aside is that blacks are getting less black all the time. This should have a small but significant effect.

BTW Immigrant blacks might also have a small but significant effect.

If the cause is genetic.

Unlike the association with diabetes with natives, to my knowledge there is not any understanding of any purported genetic aspect of poorer health outcomes for blacks. Much correlation, not necessarily causation.

IQ also correlates with better health and behavior regarding health. So, on the margin, if the average mix rate goes up, then health outcomes should slightly improve,

Very interesting article. The authors correctly note problems with measuring life expectancy by income or education categories, due to the shifting makeup of those categories. They acknowledge that counties can also have shifting makeup (low income counties might be more likely to have low mortality people move out) but how do we know that the county data are less afflicted by this problem than the income and education data?

All this makes want to know what are the underlying causes of the increase in longevity - I wonder if there are any good studies on this? For instance I wonder how much this increase is due to the decline of smoking? I assume there is also an effect of better post natal care, so lower infant mortality. Perhaps there is also a trend due to improving illegal drug quality? I am not an expert, but it would seem that the drug market will act like any other market is finding ways over time to signal quality, which since the illegal drug industry is now more than 40 years old must be happening. I am sure that a lot of drug related fatalities and illnesses were due to contaminants rather than the effect of the drug itself. Another potential cause of the increase in life expectancy could be a general trend towards higher body weights. Sure excessive body fat leads to high mortality, but there is the well known effect that fatter people do better after serious illnesses and operations as they have more reserves, so the bulk of people who are now mildly overweight do better than in the past. As someone who has lived in the developing world for most of my life - water and food contamination is now almost a non-issue in developing countries, which also must have some effect. Survival rates in car accidents are also better now due to higher use of seat-belts and lower DWI - all due to better enforcement. And so on.

Also: Better trauma care--fewer people dying in auto accidents or in other mishaps-- and criminal acts.

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