Friday, September 15, 2006

Living and Dying in America

Dr. Christopher Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health has just released a study that shows that the life expectancy of Americans varies wildly depending on geography, race, and socioeconomic status:

Murray analyzed mortality data between 1982 and 2001 by county, race, gender and income. He found some distinct groupings that he named the "eight Americas:"

Asian-Americans, average per capita income of $21,566, have a life expectancy of 84.9 years.

Northland low-income rural whites, $17,758, 79 years.

Middle America (mostly white), $24,640, 77.9 years.

Low income whites in Appalachia, Mississippi Valley, $16,390, 75 years.

Western American Indians, $10,029, 72.7 years.

Black Middle America, $15,412, 72.9 years.

Southern low-income rural blacks, $10,463, 71.2 years.

High-risk urban blacks, $14,800, 71.1 years.

The differences are stark and astounding. I would speculate that most people have some intuitive sense of their likely lifespan, and act accordingly. If I'm likely to live to be 85 or 90, I'll probably save like a madman. If I'm convinced that I'll die by the time I hit 70, it would be irrational to do so.

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