Disparity Increases in Life Expectancies of Higher-, Lower-Income U.S. Residents, Study Finds
A "large and growing" disparity exists between the life expectancies of higher- and lower-income U.S. residents, according to a new federal study, the New York Times reports. For the study, Gopal Singh, a demographer from HHS, and Mohammad Siahpush, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, used census data for all U.S. counties from 1980 to 2000 to develop an index that measures social and economic conditions.
The study found that although life expectancies increased for all residents during the two decades, higher-income residents experienced a larger increase than lower-income residents. According to the study, from 1980 to 1982, higher-income residents lived an average of 75.8 years, compared with 73 years for lower-income residents, a difference of 2.8 years. From 1998 to 2000, higher-income residents lived an average of 79.2 years, compared with 74.7 years for lower-income residents, a difference of 4.5 years, the study found. The study also found that the highest-income residents in 1980 lived longer than the lowest-income residents in 2000.
The study also highlighted the disparity in the life expectancies between whites and racial and ethnic minorities. According to the study, the largest disparity in 2000 was in the life expectancies of white women and black men. The highest-income white women lived an average of 81.1 years, compared with 66.9 years for black men, a 14-year difference, the study found.
Researchers attributed the overall life expectancy disparity in part to:
- More knowledge of advances in medical technology among higher-income residents;
- A larger decrease in smoking rates among higher-income residents;
- Lower rates of health insurance among lower-income residents; and
- Higher rates of unhealthy and risky behaviors among lower-income residents.
Some health care economists said that the disparity will "inevitably widen as doctors make gains in treating the major causes of death," the Times reports. However, Nancy Krieger, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health, disagreed. She said that from 1966 to 1980, "socioeconomic disparities declined in tandem with a decline in mortality rates," likely because of the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid, community health centers, the "war on poverty" and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Robert Moffit, director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, said that the disparity might have increased because of a "very significant gap in health literacy" between higher- and lower-income residents.
Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag said, "We have heard a lot about growing income inequality," adding, "There has been much less attention paid to growing inequality in life expectancy, which is really quite dramatic" (Pear, New York Times, 3/23).