While women have traditionally outlived men, researchers at the University of Wisconsin have found evidence that life expectancy for disadvantaged white women in the US has been declining for nearly ten years, particularly in the rural south and west. In the meantime life expectancy rates for their male counterparts have either been holding steady or improving to some extent.
According to Erika Cheng and David Kindig, who led the study, federal death data for nearly all 3,141 counties nationwide showed that the rate of women dying younger than would be expected dropped from 324 to 318 per 100,000, while the average “premature (preventable) death rate rose from 317 to about 333 per thousand in 1,344 of the counties.
They also noted that many of the counties have “such small populations that even slight changes in the number of deaths produce dramatic changes from one year to the next. As a result, they tried to stabilize the figures by computing some five-year averages.
Despite this, however, they had no explanation for the discrepancy between women and men. Neither did a similar study led two years ago by Dr. Christopher Murray, which also found that women were dying sooner in the south, although there was some speculation that higher rates of smoking, obesity and lower education levels associated with the region may be contributing factors.
Murray also suggested that abuse of oxycontin and other drugs may also be adding to the problem, while other researchers suggest that the statistics might reflect a migration of healthier, better educated women out of the rural areas, leaving those too poor or sick to relocate behind.
“That would definitely change the rate and make life expectancy in a county look worse,” explained Bob Anderson of the CDC’s National Center of health Statistics. “We should not jump to the conclusion that more people are getting sick in these geographic areas than previously.”
Editor’s note: Current life expectancy for girls born today is 81, while the life expectancy for boy is 76.