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Black Life Expectancy By State Explained: What Is The Data and Science Telling Us?

Black Life Expectancy By State Explained: What Is The Data and Science Telling Us?

Black life expectancy

Photo by Ivan Samkov

Black Americans don’t live as long as white, and experts say there are many factors, including where you live.

While Black Americans are living longer in recent decades, they continue to lag behind white people, according to the study, “Life Expectancy for White, Black, and Hispanic Race/Ethnicity in U.S. States: Trends and Disparities, 1990 to 2019” published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Black Americans still consistently had the lowest life expectancy of any of the groups.

Structural racism, including in housing and health care, plays a major role in the health of Black people. 

“The interaction of race, ethnicity and geography is really profound and explains a lot of the gaps in health that we see in the United States,” said lead study author Dr. Greg Roth, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

The disparities between Black and white life expectancy fluctuated among states. Take Missouri, where there was the largest increase in life expectancy disparities. But Massachusetts, Connecticut and Oregon saw the largest decreases, according to the study.

The pandemic, during which more African Americans were disproportionately affected by covid-19, also played a factor in the life expectancy gap.

In fact, the life expectancy of Black men in the U.S. fell by three years in the first six months of 2020, according to federal data.


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“To see these rapid declines in a year: seismic. Catastrophic,” wrote Brittney Cooper, a Rutgers University associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, in a tweet. “Black men lost 3 full years of living expectancy in the first 6 mos of 2020. And Black women lost 2.4 years or so … the picture is just terrible.”

Researchers also found widening disparities within the Black community, with length of life varying by state. Black women in Rhode Island, for example, had a longer average life expectancy (about 87 years) than Black women in Washington, D.C., (about 76 years), the study determined. For Black men, the average life expectancy in Rhode Island was about 81 years, and about 67 years in Washington, D.C.

Why? The living environment affects how long you live.

The disparities between the states looked as if people were “living in different countries,” noted Roth.

Redlining, a discriminatory and illegal housing policy that saw lenders refuse to issue credit to borrowers in Black communities, can affect a Black person’s health, according to Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe, the director of the division of health and behavior at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. Redlining not only impacted where Black people lived, he told NBC News, but where they could receive health care, find jobs and get an education.

Zip codes “could actually predict life expectancy,” he said.

According to a separate study, the state a person lives in not only affects how long you live, but also the neighborhood. A 2021 Brookings Institution analysis compared the length of Black lives across neighborhoods where the population of Black residents ranged from less than 1 percent to over 50 percent. At the national level, neighborhood life expectancy decreases as the Black population percentage increases. Neighborhoods with a 10 percent Black population or higher have an overall life expectancy lower than the national average of 78.7 years. Black-majority neighborhoods have a lower life expectancy by approximately 4.1 years, and neighborhoods with a Black population of less than 1 percent have a higher life expectancy by around one year compared to the national average, Brookings found.

Photo by Ivan Samkov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-in-white-long-sleeve-shirt-standing-beside-woman-in-cream-jacket-8499119/