Black Americans See Gains in Life Expectancy, While Whites See Drop from Opioid Deaths

Sunday, May 15, 2016
(photo: Chris Hondros, Getty Images)






By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times


WASHINGTON — It is a bitter but basic fact in health research: Black Americans die at higher rates than whites from most causes, including AIDS, heart disease, cancer and homicide.


But a recent trove of federal data offered some good news. The suicide rate for black men declined from 1999 to 2014, making them the only racial group to experience a drop. Infant mortality is down by more than a fifth among blacks since the late 1990s, double the decline for whites. Births to teenage mothers, which tend to have higher infant mortality rates, have dropped by 64 percent among blacks since 1995, faster than for whites.


Blacks are still at a major health disadvantage compared with whites. But evidence of black gains has been building and has helped push up the ultimate measure — 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.


Part of the reason has been bad news for whites, namely the opioid crisis. The crisis has hit harder in white communities, bringing down white life expectancy and narrowing the gap.


But there also has been real progress for blacks. The rate of deaths by homicide for blacks decreased by 40 percent from 1995 to 2013, according to Andrew Fenelon, a researcher with the National Center for Health Statistics, compared with a 28 percent drop for whites. The death rate from cancer fell by 29 percent for blacks over that period, compared with 20 percent for whites.


“Blacks are catching up,” said Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania.


Homicides have decreased for everyone since the early 1990s, but have gone down faster for blacks. As a result, the black-white gap in deaths from homicides fell by 40 percent from 1990 to 2010 in the largest metro areas across the country, according to Michael Light, a sociologist at Purdue University.


To Learn More:

Why are Middle-Aged White Americans Dying at a Higher Rate? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Why do Black Americans Live Shorter Lives than White Americans? Heart Disease, Cancer and Homicide (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Life Expectancy Declines for White High School Dropouts (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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