Skip to main content

Inequality in Mortality between Black and White Americans by Age, Place, and Cause, and in Comparison to Europe, 1990-2018 (WP-21-38)

Hannes Schwandt, Janet Currie, Marlies Bär, James Banks, Paola Bertoli, Aline Bütikofer, Sarah Cattan, Beatrice Chao, et al.

Although there is a large gap between Black and White American life expectancies, the gap fell 48.9% between 1990-2018, mainly due to mortality declines among Black Americans. The researchers examine age-specific mortality trends and racial gaps in life expectancy in rich and poor U.S. areas and with reference to six European countries.

Inequalities in life expectancy are starker in the U.S. than in Europe. In 1990 White Americans and Europeans in rich areas had similar overall life expectancy, while life expectancy for White Americans in poor areas was lower. But since then even rich White Americans have lost ground relative to Europeans. Meanwhile, the gap in life expectancy between Black Americans and Europeans decreased by 8.3%.

Black life expectancy increased more than White life expectancy in all U.S. areas, but improvements in poorer areas had the greatest impact on the racial life expectancy gap. The causes that contributed the most to Black mortality reductions included: Cancer, homicide, HIV, and causes originating in the fetal or infant period.

Life expectancy for both Black and White Americans plateaued or slightly declined after 2012, but this stalling was most evident among Black Americans even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. If improvements had continued at the 1990-2012 rate, the racial gap in life expectancy would have closed by 2036. European life expectancy also stalled after 2014. Still, the comparison with Europe suggests that mortality rates of both Black and White Americans could fall much further across all ages and in both rich and poor areas.

Hannes Schwandt, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Janet Currie, Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University

Marlies Bär, School of Health Policy & Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam

James Banks, Professor of Economics, University of Manchester

Paola Bertoli, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Verona

Aline Bütikofer, Professor of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics

Sarah Cattan, Associate Director, Education and Skills, Institute for Fiscal Studies

Beatrice Zong-Ying Chao, Northwestern University

Claudia Costa, Centre of Studies in Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Coimbra

Libertad Gonzalez, Associate Professor of Economics, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Veronica Grembi, Associate Professor of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods, University of Milan

Kristiina Huttunen, Associate Professor of Economics, Aalto University

René Karadakic, Department of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics

Lucy Kraftman, Research Economist, Institute for Fiscal Studies

Sonya Krutikova, Deputy Research Director, Institute for Fiscal Studies

Stefano Lombardi, Senior Researcher, VATT Institute for Economic Research

Peter Redler, Munich Graduate School of Economics

Carlos Riumallo-Herl, Assistant Professor, School of Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Ana Rodríguez-González, Postdoctoral Fellow, Economics, Lund University

Kjell Salvanes, Professor of Labor Economics, Norwegian School of Economics

Paula Santana, Professor of Geography, University of Coimbra

Josselin Thuilliez, Director of Research, CNRS and Panthéon-Sorbonne

Eddy van Doorslaer, Professor of Health Policy & Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Tom Van Ourti, Professor of Applied Health Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Joachim Winter, Professor of Empirical Economic Research, University of Munich

Bram Wouterse, Assistant Professor, School of Health Policy & Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Amelie Wuppermann, Professor of Economics, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg

Download PDF