Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Culture of Life XXXXIII

There is a great deal I could say about this picture but I'll keep it short. We only see two independent variables here -- "race" and sex. Black people have lower average incomes, educational and occupational status than white people, and those variables are very important influences on life expectancy. If you control for them, the disparities are reduced, but not entirely eliminated.

Women live longer than men. That's partly constitutional but it's also because men are more likely to have dangerous occupations, are more likely to smoke, and are more likely to be murdered.

We only see these two artificial "race" categories on the diagram, because data on more socially meaningful ethnic groups -- such as African Americans (which is not a synonym for Black), Puerto Ricans, Navajo, and Chinese Americans -- are not good enough.

The calculation of life expectancy at birth is based on projecting current death rates for five-year age cohorts into the future. It doesn't correspond to any real person's actual predicted life span, because the underlying assumption is certainly false. So this is really telling us something about the chances that people who are already alive will die prematurely.

What is the full causal story of these disparities? That's very complicated and we don't know all of it, not even close. But the hurricane disaster is instructive. Staying alive requires all sorts of resources -- personal wealth, a safe environment, the benefit of formal supports from society, knowledge and skills, and it helps considerably to have a lot to live for. We allocate all of these very inequitably, and life and health are inequitable in corresponding measure.

Top priority for the administration and Congress once the recent unpleasantness recedes: permanently eliminate the estate tax, thereby assuring that the inheritances of people whose parents possess more than $20 million are not reduced by 17%.

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