Life expectancy in the US

December 4, 2012

You often hear that life expectancy is lower in the US than in many other developed countries — and that health care is the critical ingredient. The first is true, the second probably not. One striking fact about the US: an unusually large number of young people die — more than twice as in Germany or Japan — many of them from car accidents or violence. Here’s the evidence, courtesy of The Economist. To be clear: all of these “mortality rates” for young people are low, but they’re lower elsewhere, and they have a significant impact on life expectancy.

The link is part of The Economist’s graph-a-day calendar for December. Chris Telmer sent me the link, and I thought they were great.  If you have favorites, pass them on and we’ll follow up.

Update (Dec 7):  If you’re interested in more, the origin of the figure in The Economist is here. And here’s a list of papers on the “global burden of disease.”

Ariel Pakes recommends a paper by David Cutler.

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6 Responses to “Life expectancy in the US”

  1. Jack Sheehan Says:

    Does anyone know of an analysis that compares the performance of different nation’s healthcare systems after normalizing for factors like these (violence, traffic accidents, etc)?

    Another factor likely worth normalizing for would be the rate of obesity in the US compared with other developed nations. Part of the high rate of obesity might be attributable to a failure in the nation’s healthcare system, but I believe the majority of the blame lay outside the healthcare system’s control.

    Another factor to consider normalizing for would be access to healthcare. Of course, inconsistent access to healthcare may be interperted in part as a failure of the healthcare system. But for American’s who have access to healthcare they may want to see how their healthcare stacks-up to other nation’s systems.

    • David Backus Says:

      Good question. The answer is almost certainly yes, but it’s not something I know well. Will look around and see what I can find.

    • David Backus Says:

      I added some links to the post. It’s a good issue, I hope to know more in a year.

      • David Backus Says:

        Jack: see the Cutler link. His numbers show changes in life expectancy for the US at various ages between 1960 and 2000. At birth, life expectancy has gone up 7 years. At 65, life expectancy has gone up 3.5 years; see Table 1. So half the gain comes before age 65. More detail in the paper, including connections to medical care.

  2. Jack Sheehan Says:

    Very interesting article from the NEJM. As mentioned in the article, the single biggest category of increased life expectancy is cardiovascular disease, and this occurred against a backdrop of rising obesity rates. To me, this suggests that the gains in medical care for cardiovascular disease are probably understated given that cardiovascular medical care today is being tested against a more obese, and therefore tougher, population than in 1960.


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