1 minute read

Longevity: Social Aspects

Survival Curves, Rectangularization Of Mortality, Mortality By Cause, Longer Lives And Better Health, Factors Related To Mortality

The population of the United States enjoys one of the highest life expectancies in the world, and throughout the twentieth century the life expectancy of Americans increased remarkably. When the twentieth century began, U.S. newborns could expect to live an average of 47 years (see Figure 1). By 1960, that number had risen to 70 years, and it had increased to 76.7 years by the year 1998 (Anderson; Murphy).

Earlier in the twentieth century, life expectancies were volatile. For example, between 1917 and 1918, life expectancy plummeted 24 percent, from 48.4 to 36.6 years, due to the influenza epidemic. Since the introduction of infectious disease–fighting antibiotics in the 1930s, life expectancies have become more stable as they increased. Improvements in health care, social programs, and living conditions have further contributed to increasing life expectancies.

Figure 1 Life expectancies by sex and for the total population, United States SOURCE: Adapted from: Murphy, S. L. "Deaths: Final Data for 1998." Monthly Vital Statistics Report 48 (2000): 1–108. Also from: Anderson, R. N. "United States Life Tables, 1998." National Vital Statistics Reports 47 (2001): 1–38.

Over time, both males and females have enjoyed substantial improvements. Females have experienced life expectancy gains from 48.3 years in 1900 to 79.5 years in 1998; males life expectancy increased from 46.3 years to 73.8 years during this same period. The life expectancy sex gap gradually widened from 2 years in 1900 to 7.8 years in 1975. It has been closing gradually since, narrowing to 5.7 years in 1998.

Life expectancy in the United States also differs for persons with different social characteristics. For example, racial and ethnic groups vary such that African-Americans have the lowest life expectancy in the United States, Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites have higher life expectancies, and Asian Americans have the highest (Rogers et al., 2000). Persons in higher status educational, income, and occupational groupings also have substantial life expectancy advantages over those in lower socioeconomic statuses.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 3