Life Expectancy: Going Up? Going Down?

Last week I read an article that stated that women’s life expectancy in the United States was going down.  According to  Journal Sentinel Online,

Female death rates before age 75 actually rose in 43% of U.S. counties – including a forested swath of west-central and northern Wisconsin – between 1992 and 2006, according to a UW-Madison Population Health Institute study published Monday in the journal Health Affairs.


Which part of the country you live in may matter, too. For women, living in counties in the South and West was associated with a 6% higher mortality rate than living in the Northeast, according to the study.

The article continues:

Meanwhile, death rates among men declined in every Wisconsin county, and throughout much of the country

However, Yesterday, I read another article that is claiming that life expectancy is going up at least in certain socio-economic circles.  It turns out that

those gains have accrued overwhelmingly to society’s higher socioeconomic status individuals. Working class life expectancy has largely stagnated

According to the article, access to good healthcare, which can be expensive, becomes inaccessible for individuals who don’t make a certain amount of money.  Another reason for the disparity between life expectancy among the rich and the poor is that the poorer citizen may be exposed to “negative environmental health risks” in far greater numbers than their richer counterparts.  Where they might find housing they can afford may expose them to more pollutants, for example.  Also, the food one eats certainly has an influence and fast foods or foods in the grocery stores that are cheap do not have the same nutritional values than, let’s say, an organic vegetable from Whole Foods which costs $5 a pound.

So now we have two articles. The first says that women’s health is causing an increase in mortality.  The second says that socio economic levels influence mortality.  Then today I saw an AARPBulletin article that claimed that

“Americans are in poorer health and are dying sooner than the rest of the industrialized world….A 2011 study of 17 industrialized countries…found that American men, whose life expectancy is 75.6 years, ranked last, and U.S. women, at 80.7 years, ranked 16th.”

These findings were based on a study ordered by the National Institute of Health which clearly showed

what they called “a pervasive pattern of shorter lives and poor health” crossing all (author’s emphasis) socioeconomic lines.

In the meanwhile, those folks on Capitol Hill continue to insist that the baby boomers are going to live longer and deplete the Medicare/Social Security bank.  So rather than raise taxes, we should cut back on these two “entitlements”   Hunh?  The logic these “lawmakers” spew makes less and less sense as each day goes by.  Oops I guess I am getting off track here.

And there was in fact an article in the Washington Post, albeit last year, that stated that findings from reviews of death certificates in the 50 states and the District of Columbia found that death rates were down and life expectancy was up.  It was probably this article that our “lawmakers” saw and, to be fair, there is a real possibility, given the numbers that make up the baby boomers, that mortality and/or chronic health issues are more likely to be on the increase.

According to a study done for the Gerontological Society of America

It is surprising that, given the socioeconomic, medical, and public health advantages of Baby Boomers throughout their lives, they are not doing considerably better on all counts.

And, one would have to concur with this logical conclusion:

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine on the future of disability in America (Field & Jette, 2007) suggests that despite these improvements, the numbers of adults with disabilities will likely swell in the coming years as the large Baby Boom generation—those born during the years 1946–1964—reaches the ages associated with the highest rates of morbidity and disability. Undoubtedly, such a trend would have important implications for the provision of medical and social services, for the ability of future older adults to participate fully in society, including the workplace, and more generally for their quality of life. However, although the number of adults reaching older ages and thus experiencing elevated risks for debilitating conditions will certainly grow, there is debate about whether the Baby Boom cohort will enter later life with better or worse age-specific rates of morbidity and disability than earlier cohorts.

And, if one googles health and the baby boomer, pages of studies come up citing that baby boomers are less healthy than their parents or grandparents were.

In the end, there seem to be as many studies and opinions about mortality among the aging in the U.S. as there are publications willing to write about the topic.  As for me, well, I live by the belief system that “Until my time comes, nothing can harm me.  When my time comes, nothing can protect me.”

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013




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