The Lifespan Gap Between White and Black Americans Is Closing

Photo: Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images

Perhaps the starkest indicator of the different ways white and black Americans are treated is the fact that white people simply live longer: There has always been a gap between the lifespans of white and black Americans. In recent years, though, there appears to have been some progress on that front.

Reporting on a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Gina Kolata of the New York Times explains that while there’s still a gap — the life expectancy for black and white Americans is 75.6 years and 79 years, respectively — it’s closing, and “[b]lack Americans who live to 65 may now expect to live longer than whites of the same age, the federal researchers also found.”

“The narrowing gap in death rates first emerged at the start of this century, and it shows no signs of abating,” writes Kotala. “Both black and white Americans are living longer, but the death rate among blacks has been dropping faster than that among whites.” One possible reason for this that Kolata doesn’t mention is the white mortality crisis — that is, the fact that many middle-aged white people, particularly less-educated ones, are experiences alarming rates of “deaths of despair” as a result of addiction, suicide, and so forth. It would be interesting to model out what the black-white life-expectancy gap would look like if the white mortality crisis hadn’t hit the way it has.

So make no mistake: All in all, it’s good that the gap is narrowing, even if no one number can tell the whole story of racial health disparities. But hidden in the good news is a sharp uptick in suffering on one side of the equation.

America’s Racial Lifespan Gap Is Closing