Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
, 177 (7), 1003-1011

Inequalities in Life Expectancy Among US Counties, 1980 to 2014: Temporal Trends and Key Drivers

Affiliations

Inequalities in Life Expectancy Among US Counties, 1980 to 2014: Temporal Trends and Key Drivers

Laura Dwyer-Lindgren et al. JAMA Intern Med.

Abstract

Importance: Examining life expectancy by county allows for tracking geographic disparities over time and assessing factors related to these disparities. This information is potentially useful for policy makers, clinicians, and researchers seeking to reduce disparities and increase longevity.

Objective: To estimate annual life tables by county from 1980 to 2014; describe trends in geographic inequalities in life expectancy and age-specific risk of death; and assess the proportion of variation in life expectancy explained by variation in socioeconomic and race/ethnicity factors, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and health care factors.

Design, setting, and participants: Annual county-level life tables were constructed using small area estimation methods from deidentified death records from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), and population counts from the US Census Bureau, NCHS, and the Human Mortality Database. Measures of geographic inequality in life expectancy and age-specific mortality risk were calculated. Principal component analysis and ordinary least squares regression were used to examine the county-level association between life expectancy and socioeconomic and race/ethnicity factors, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and health care factors.

Exposures: County of residence.

Main outcomes and measures: Life expectancy at birth and age-specific mortality risk.

Results: Counties were combined as needed to create stable units of analysis over the period 1980 to 2014, reducing the number of areas analyzed from 3142 to 3110. In 2014, life expectancy at birth for both sexes combined was 79.1 (95% uncertainty interval [UI], 79.0-79.1) years overall, but differed by 20.1 (95% UI, 19.1-21.3) years between the counties with the lowest and highest life expectancy. Absolute geographic inequality in life expectancy increased between 1980 and 2014. Over the same period, absolute geographic inequality in the risk of death decreased among children and adolescents, but increased among older adults. Socioeconomic and race/ethnicity factors, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and health care factors explained 60%, 74%, and 27% of county-level variation in life expectancy, respectively. Combined, these factors explained 74% of this variation. Most of the association between socioeconomic and race/ethnicity factors and life expectancy was mediated through behavioral and metabolic risk factors.

Conclusions and relevance: Geographic disparities in life expectancy among US counties are large and increasing. Much of the variation in life expectancy among counties can be explained by a combination of socioeconomic and race/ethnicity factors, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and health care factors. Policy action targeting socioeconomic factors and behavioral and metabolic risk factors may help reverse the trend of increasing disparities in life expectancy in the United States.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.. Life Expectancy at Birth by County, 2014
Counties in South Dakota and North Dakota had the lowest life expectancy, and counties along the lower half of the Mississippi, in eastern Kentucky, and southwestern West Virginia also had very low life expectancy compared with the rest of the country. Counties in central Colorado had the highest life expectancies.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.. Change in Life Expectancy at Birth by County, 1980 to 2014
Compared with the national average, counties in central Colorado, Alaska, and along both coasts experienced larger increases in life expectancy between 1980 and 2014, while some southern counties in states stretching from Oklahoma to West Virginia saw little, if any, improvement over this same period.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.. Absolute and Relative Inequality Among Counties in Life Expectancy and Age-Specific Mortality Risks, 1980–2014
Shaded areas along the plotted data represent 95% uncertainty intervals. Absolute geographic inequality was quantified as the difference between the 99th and first percentile level, and relative geographic inequality was quantified as the ratio of the 99th to the first percentile level.

Comment in

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 50 articles

See all "Cited by" articles

Publication types

Feedback