The geography of life expectancy

A new study (pdf) shows that there are marked geographical differences in your life expectancy. The differences are not solely attributable to race, income or health alone.

The map above shows differences in life expectancy according to the study. The upper two maps show life expectancies for blacks and the lower two for whites, by county.

This kind of study is interesting in that it shows that a health outcome is caused by multiple factors. Second, the authors concentrate on what they call the "eight Americas" (that is, where differences are most extreme. In this case, it is not surprising that there are differences when you look at the extremes (there usually are in any distribution), so I find that aspect less valuable/surprising.

What I think we can conclude is that health is not equally available to Americans, and that indeed it tends to be concentrated into the hands of a few. The majority of Americans outside this elite class are confined to shorter, less healthy lives.

The authors are admirably frank about discussing shortcomings in their data and methodology; shortcomings that are inherent in a large study such as this. They are realistic that for example, Asians may "return" to their country of origin if they are unhealthy and that this may lead to under-reporting of death rates in first generation Asian-Americans. A proportion of their data are therefore based on models and estimates.

No comments: