Why Has Low Black Life Expectancy Been Largely Ignored?

Why Has Low Black Life Expectancy Been Largely Ignored?

Healthcare advances have been made, people are more aware of healthy living, yet the lifespan of Black men in America remains lower than Black women and white women and men. Looking at a span of 111 years from 1900 up until 2011, a study has found this life expectancy discrepancy for Black men starts at birth. 

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In 1900, the estimated life expectancy for white men was 46.6 years; for non-white men it was 43.5 years; for white women it was 48.7 years, and for non-white women it was 33.5 years. By 2011, the life expectancy for White men was 76.6 years; for Black men it was 72.2 years; for white women it was 81.1 years; and for Black women it was 78.2 years. For both genders, the relative difference in life expectancy declined from a high of 34 percent in 1900 to a low of 4 percent in 2011, the U.S. National Library of Medicine and  National Institutes For Health reported.

Why? According to the study, while other groups have seen an increase in life expectancy, Black men have seen an increase in mortality from homicide and HIV for young to middle-aged Black men.

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Bottom line: “Black Americans die at higher rates than whites from most causes, including AIDS, heart disease, cancer and homicide,” found the study.

In this Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 photo, students participate in a pre-kindergarten class at Alice M. Harte Charter School in New Orleans. Charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated, are often located in urban areas with large back populations, intended as alternatives to struggling city schools. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

There were some upsides: Black men saw a drop in suicide rate from 1999 to 2014. This is the only racial group to experience a decrease. And infant mortality dropped by more than a fifth among Blacks since the late 1990s. This was double the decline for white 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.

Also, the rate of deaths by homicide for Black people overall went down by a whopping 40 percent from 1995 to 2013, according to Andrew Fenelon, a researcher with the National Center for Health Statistics. White saw only a 28 percent drop. The Black deaths from cancer decreased by 29 percent; for whites it was a 20 percent drop.

“Blacks are catching up,” Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. “The gap is now the narrowest it has been since the beginning of the 20th century, and that’s really good news.”

Still, why is there so little attention to the low life expectancy of Black men? Neither the experts nor the study offered any solutions or looked into the societal ramifications.

Black women live at least seven years longer than Black men. “Discrepancies in health statistics for the more than 17 million Black men, when compared to others, highlight a great need to better address their causes. There are a number of reasons that can be pointed to as causes for the issues of poor health among Black men. Racial discrimination, high rates of incarceration, unemployment, a lack of affordable health services, poor health education, cultural barriers, poverty, access to health insurance, and insufficient medical and social services catering to Black men all negatively affect the quality of life and health,” Very Well Health concluded.