Black-White Life Expectancy Gap Narrows, but Remains Substantial

After sharply increasing in the 1980s, the gap in black and white life expectancy has since declined but the reasons for the changes remain unknown. The authors of this study use vital statistics data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System to explore how causes of death and certain age groups may have contributed to black-white life expectancy changes. Their study found that:

  • The black-white life-expectancy gap has narrowed because of reductions in the death rate from homicide, HIV, unintentional injuries and heart disease in women.
  • Among women, heart disease made the largest contribution to the difference in black-white life expectancy, accounting for 28 percent in 1983 and 30 percent in 2003.
  • Among men, the largest contribution to the life-expectancy gap changed from homicide in 1983 (17%) to heart disease in 2003 (21%).
  • In 2003, the difference in life expectancy at birth between blacks and whites was substantial at 6.3 years (men) and 4.5 years (women).

Efforts to further narrow the gap will require emphasis on reducing the mortality caused by cardiovascular disease, homicide, HIV and infant deaths.