US Life Expectancy Lower Than Other Developed Nations

Connie K. Ho for

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Emerson advocated for experimentation throughout life. In particular, there is one experimental study that should be observed as it relates to life expectancy. Researchers from Rice University and the University of Colorado, Boulder recently discovered that, even though the U.S. has progressed in the number of people who live with a longer lifespan, it still doesn´t match other countries in terms of life expectancies; likewise, the poorest citizens live around five years less than the richest in the country.

The research, published in an upcoming edition of the Social Science Quarterly, utilizes time-series analysis to examine historical data on U.S. morality based on the Human Mortality Database. The study, titled “Stagnating Life Expectancies and Future Prospects in an Age of Uncertainty,” combines data from 1930 to 2000. Authors determined trends in mortality over this period and time and predicted life expectancies until the year 2055.

Interesting enough, the U.S. has made some gains in lifespan, adding three more years through 2055. However, the country still cannot match its development counterparts in life expectancy. While the average life expectancy for a person born in the U.S. is 78.49, it is much lower than people from Monaco (89.68), Macau (84.43), and Japan (83.91). As well, the poorest U.S. citizens generally live five years less than the richest citizens.

“But when broken down, these numbers show that those gains were mostly experienced between 1930 the 1950s and 1960s,” noted Dr. Justin Denney, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice, in a prepared statement. “Since that time, gains in life expectancy have flattened out.”

Denney believes that various chronic conditions have allowed for smaller gains in life expectancy; these conditions are more easily treated when people have an increased amount of finances.

“During periods of expansion in length of life, a similar expansion has occurred between more and less advantaged groups — the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, inequality grows and life expectancy is dramatically impacted,” explained Denney in the statement. “And despite disproportionate spending on health care, life expectancy in the U.S. continues to fall down the ladder of international rankings of length of life. It goes to show that prosperity doesn´t necessarily equal long-term health.”

The study demonstrates “the ugly side of inequality” and Denney believes that it highlights that more needs to be done in terms of eliminating inequality and decreasing life expectancies in the U.S.

“Even in uncertain times, it is important to look forward in preparing for the needs of future populations,” Denney remarked in the statement. “The results presented here underscore the relevance of policy and health initiatives aimed at improving the nation´s health and reveal important insight into possible limits to mortality improvement over the next five decades.”

Besides this paper, Denney is working on other research projects related to determining individual and structural conditions related to health and morality inequalities. He has looked at domestic and international settings on the effects of family formations on individual suicide risks, neighborhood contributors to obesity, as well as the effects of national level social and economic development on socioeconomic gaps with unhealthy behaviors like smoking.

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