Why Is There Greater Variance in the Life Spans of Blacks than of Whites in the United States?

Glenn Firebaugh, Pennsylvania State University
Francesco Acciai, Pennsylvania State University
Aggie J. Noah, Pennsylvania State University
Chris Prather, Pennsylvania State University
Claudia L. Nau, Johns Hopkins University

One of the most significant racial disparities in health is the difference in the life expectancies of non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites. Life expectancy is shorter, and variance in age at death is greater, for blacks than it is for whites in the United States. We call this black-white difference in variance in the age at death the racial variance gap. The objective of this study is to investigate the sources of the racial variance gap using the new decomposition method which partitions group differences in variance into three components (the Nau-Firebaugh method). Authors find that “communicable diseases” is the most racially imbalanced, with blacks being 33% more likely (than whites) to die of a communicable disease; whereas whites are more likely to die of external causes. For almost all causes of death, blacks tend to die at a younger age than whites do (except for accidental poisoning).

  See paper

Presented in Session 111: Mortality Trends and Differentials I