Saturday, June 24, 2017

Looking at life expectancy in detail

The New York Times published this U.S. life expectancy chart in an article a year ago:

In my book, I had published a similar chart showing the shrinking life expectancy gap between classes in Britain, and we see the same trend here. The gap between white and black life expectancy in the U.S. is now 3.4 years, down from 7 in 1990, and even wider going back farther.

While the article highlights a lot of interesting small trends, and the current patterns, my book prefers to look at larger trends. And it's not hard to see what's going on here, in the 116 years shown. In 1900, whites had a life expectancy of about 50, and blacks about 35. Today, that's 79 and 75.6.

What's incredible to me is how little the world's largest events matter in the long term. Look at the trauma of 1918. It was a terrible time for millions of people, but in terms of life expectancy, it didn't stop the trend from continuing right back up as if the Spanish Flu and WWI had never happened. Same thing for WWII, the Great Depression, and Vietnam. On this chart - obviously removed from the terrible human impact on the millions of people it represents - those were all just blips temporarily slowing down an unstoppable trend./p>