Study: Life expectancy gap between Black and white Americans closing

The life expectancy gap has closed nearly 50 percent in the past 30 years.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the persistent life expectancy gap between white and Black Americans, that gap has narrowed over the past three decades.

According to a news release, a study performed by researchers at Princeton University’s Center for Health and Wellbeing found that the life expectancy gap between Black and white Americans has shrunk by nearly 50 percent since 1990. The analysis ties the narrowing gap to improvements among Black Americans.

The researchers found that in 1990 Black Americans lived seven years fewer than whites but by 2018 that gap dropped to 3.6 years. They say that life expectancy improvements in the poorest counties in the country helped to narrow the gap as well as reductions in Black American deaths due to cancer, HIV, homicide, as well as fetal and neonatal conditions.

Life expectancy has grown stagnant across all groups in the U.S. since 2012 with white Americans losing ground compared to Europeans in rich and poor areas. The opioid epidemic is also an important cause of the declines but there should be more research into other contributing factors. If improvements would have continued at the earlier rate, the researchers say the racial life expectancy gap would have closed by 2036.

“It is important to recognize the very real gains that have occurred over the past 30 years, and to understand the reasons for them” Janet M. Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and co-director of Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing, says in the release. “Improved access to health care and safety-net programs all contributed to improvements in life expectancy among Black Americans. Yet, there is this perplexing reversal of the positive trends for all groups since 2012 that we need to better understand."

The analysis was based on data from the National Vital Statistics System and the National Center for Health Statistics, which is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the release.