This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stayin' Alive--A Little Bit Longer

The news is pretty much 24/7 worry about Ebola (more on that tomorrow). Lost in the scare (and it is right to be worried about any disease with a 70% case fatality rate), was the latest update on mortality statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control. It was sufficiently lost that I found out only because Professor Rumbaut pointed it out to me today! The news coverage showed up in a NY Times story somewhat grandiosely titled "A Leap in Lifespans." The story is really about increases in life expectancy, not changes in lifespan (and if you have read Chapter 5 of my book, you understand the key difference). RubĂ©n Rumbaut offers the suggestion that since the author's name is Paula Span, she may have a preference for that terminology.

In all events, the story is that based on U.S. mortality data for 2012 (the latest date available), life expectancy has been increasing at all ages in the U.S. The CDC noted, in particular, the life expectancy at age 65. For women (all race/ethnic groups combined), it is now 20.5 years, whereas for men it is 17.9, as you can see in the graph below. Ms. Span notes in her article that this is a big rise from the numbers back in 1960, when someone aged 65 in 2012 was in their early teens. Back then, a 65-year (both sexes combined) could expect to live another 14.4 years, compared to 19.3 in 2012. And, to be sure, each year you stay alive, the older will your expected age at death be. The CDC has not yet published the life tables lying behind this story (the latest online are for 2009), but my own latest calculations, which are for 2010 and are in the soon-to-be released 12th edition, show that a woman aged 65 in the US in 2010 could expect to live an additional 20.3 years (10 weeks less than the figure for 2012 shown above), implying an expected age at death of 85.3. However, if she survived to age 75--assuming no improvement in mortality--she could expect to live 13.0 years more, implying an expected age at death of 88.0.

Another good piece of news is that the gap in life expectancy by race and ethnicity is narrower at the older ages than it is at the younger ages. "Statistics from 2011 show that among 65-year-olds, life expectancy was 20.7 years on average for Hispanics, 19.2 years for whites and 18 years for blacks." These numbers remind us that the influx of Hispanics into the U.S. has actually helped to increase life expectancy at the national level. That's a good thing, because life expectancy in the U.S. remains lower than in Canada or Australia, or anywhere in northern, western, or southern Europe. Our health care system is far and away the most expensive in the world, but it is far from being the most effective at keeping people alive.

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