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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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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Monday, May 9, 2016

Life Expectancy Gap Closes Between Whites and Blacks in the U.S.

The NYTimes has a front page story today detailing the narrowing of the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites in the U.S. This is a classic "good news/bad news" story. The good news is that death rates from several key causes among blacks have declined; the bad news is that death rates from some causes--especially drug overdoses and suicide among males--have risen among whites. This latter bad news has been covered in the media, as I have noted before, whereas the good news generally has not. Sabrina Tavernise, who wrote the story, did a nice job of rounding up experts to comment on the story. My favorite is from my long-time mentor and friend, Sam Preston, who succinctly summed up the situation:
“Blacks are catching up,” said Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania. “The gap is now the narrowest it has been since the beginning of the 20th century, and that’s really good news.”
 Here are some of the details:
The suicide rates or 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.
 The chart below shows the rise in life expectancy for both blacks and whites since 1900, and the gradual, but nonetheless clear narrowing of the gap.

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