Race and Life Expectancy: Winners and Losers

Three women in a row, one hispanic, one white and one black.
In the US, whites live longer than African Americans, but not all states are equal. Where does yours rank? (Image credit: Kelly Young, Shutterstock)

In the United States, whites outlive blacks, but this varies by state, according to new research.

The researchers looked at death certificate data from 1997 through 2004, covering more than 17 million people from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The researchers noted race/ethnicity, sex, the age at death and the state where each subject was born, lived and died.

[Read full story on race and life expectancy]

For both men and women, the racial disparity in lifeexpectancy was the smallest in New Mexico (a gap of 3.76 years between white and black men, and 2.45 years for women) and largest for D.C. (13.77 years for men 8.55 years for women).

See where your state fits in below.

States with the Smallest Racial Disparity

The nine states with the smallest gap in the racial disparity in life expectancy for men (<6 years) are New Mexico (disparity 3.76 years), Kentucky (4.37 years), West Virginia (4.42 years), Nevada (4.72 years), Oklahoma (5.10 years), Washington (5.10 years), Colorado (5.23 years), New York (5.32 years), and Arizona (5.60 years).

In KY, WV, NV and OK, the racial disparity is small because white men have lower-than-average life expectancy, while black men have life expectancy close to their national average. In contrast, five states with a small disparity (NM, WA, CO, NY, AZ) have both black and white populations with higher-than-average life expectancy, and black men live substantially longer than the national average for blacks.

States with the Largest Racial Disparity

The largest gaps in racial life expectancy for men (those larger than eight years) are New Jersey, N.E., Wisc., Mich., Penn., Ill., and D.C. The gap is large because black men live fewer years than expected, whereas white men live longer than expected relative to the national average. The states with the largest racial disparity in life expectancy for women are Ill., R.I., Kan., MI, N.J., Wis., Minn., Ind., Fla., N.E., and D.C.(more than six years).

States with the Largest Black Populations

Because of its large African American population, Florida has the largest impact on national disparity. The national disparity would fall from 7.13 to 6.63 years for men and from 5.20 to 4.74 years for women if Florida had no disparity in life expectancy. Florida has a racial disparity in life expectancy similar to the national average for men (7.42 years) and greater than the national average for women (6.92 years).

Improving conditions in six other states (Calif.,Texas, Ga., N.C., Md., and La.) with large black populations would also have large impacts on the national disparity.

Other states that contribute substantially to the national disparity for both men and women are Ill., Calif., N.Y., Texas, and Ga. Among these states, Illinois has a large gap in racial disparity, where as Calif., Texas, and Ga., had average gaps for men and women.

In contrast, New York has a smaller gap than other states, but elimination of these relatively small disparities would make a comparatively big impact: For men, disparity would change from 7.13 to 6.70 years and women would decrease from 5.20 to 4.91 years.

The study was published in the February 2012 issue of the journal Health Services Research.

You can follow LiveScience staff writer Jennifer Welsh on Twitter @microbelover. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Jennifer Welsh

Jennifer Welsh is a Connecticut-based science writer and editor and a regular contributor to Live Science. She also has several years of bench work in cancer research and anti-viral drug discovery under her belt. She has previously written for Science News, VerywellHealth, The Scientist, Discover Magazine, WIRED Science, and Business Insider.