IHME analyzed new mortality data by age, sex, and county for the US from 1989 to 2009. Across US counties, life expectancy in 2009 ranged from 66.1 to 81.6 years for men and 73.5 to 86.0 years for women. From 1989 to 2009, life expectancy for men improved by 4.6 years on average but only by 2.7 years for women. And throughout the country, women were more likely than men to have no progress in life expectancy or to have their lifespans get shorter over time.
In 661 counties, life expectancy stopped dead or went backwards for women since 1999. By comparison, life expectancy for men stopped or reversed in 166 counties. This troubling trend is occurring in 84% of Oklahoma counties, 58% of Tennessee counties, and 33% of Georgia counties.
The gap between women living the longest lives and those living the shortest lives is growing, too. In Collier, Florida, women live 85.8 years on average. In McDowell, West Virginia, they live to be 74.1. That’s an 11.7-year gap. In 1989, the gap was 8.7 years. For men, the gap is larger – 15.5 years – but it has grown by less than a year since 1989. Men live the longest in Marin, California, at 81.6 years. They live the shortest lives on average in Quitman and Tunica, Mississippi, at 66.1.
The range of life expectancies is so broad that in some counties, such as Stearns, Minnesota, lifespans rival some of the places where people live the longest – Japan, Hong Kong, and France – while in other counties, life expectancies are lower than places that spend far less on health care – Egypt, Indonesia, and Colombia. Even within states, there are large disparities. Women in Fairfax, Virginia, have among the best life expectancies in the world at 84.1 years, while in Sussex, Virginia, they have among the worst at 75.9 years.
At the same time, the life expectancy gap between black Americans and white Americans is closing. In 1989, black men could expect to live to be 63.8 on average, while white men had an average lifespan of 72.5, a difference of 8.7 years. In 2009, black male life expectancy improved by nearly a decade to 71.2 years, and white male life expectancy improved at a slower rate to 76.7 years, a 5.5-year gap. The gap between black women and white women is even narrower: 3.6 years. Black women on average in 2009 had a life expectancy of 77.9 years, compared to 81.5 years for white women.