US Life Expectancy Flat for Third Year

Yves here. This is a short but deceptively important post. The fact that life expectancy in the US is no longer rising, in a time of economic growth, is yet another sign of underlying societal decay.

There are underlying factors that should in theory lead to longer life expectancies, such as fewer smokers in the population. Similarly, cancer rates are falling. And we have supposedly better access overall to health care thanks to Obamacare.

But offsetting that are the rise of diabetes, and most important, rising income disparity and weakening social bonds. As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, income disparity has high health costs, even for the rich. From one of our very first posts, in 2007, quoting Michael Prowse in the Financial Times:

Those who would deny a link between health and inequality must first grapple with the following paradox. There is a strong relationship between income and health within countries. In any nation you will find that people on high incomes tend to live longer and have fewer chronic illnesses than people on low incomes.

Yet, if you look for differences between countries, the relationship between income and health largely disintegrates. Rich Americans, for instance, are healthier on average than poor Americans, as measured by life expectancy. But, although the US is a much richer country than, say, Greece, Americans on average have a lower life expectancy than Greeks. More income, it seems, gives you a health advantage with respect to your fellow citizens, but not with respect to people living in other countries….

Once a floor standard of living is attained, people tend to be healthier when three conditions hold: they are valued and respected by others; they feel ‘in control’ in their work and home lives; and they enjoy a dense network of social contacts. Economically unequal societies tend to do poorly in all three respects: they tend to be characterised by big status differences, by big differences in people’s sense of control and by low levels of civic participation….

Unequal societies, in other words, will remain unhealthy societies – and also unhappy societies – no matter how wealthy they become. Their advocates – those who see no reason whatever to curb ever-widening income differentials – have a lot of explaining to do.

Of course, given Lambert’s relentless documentation of the problems with Obamacare, you could also see the stalling out of life expectance increases as reflecting presumed continued gains for the better off, and the success of the neoliberal prescription, “Die faster!” for the rest.

By Bruce Webb. Originally published at Angry Bear

US life expectancy flat for third year

Life expectancy in the United States has stalled for three straight years, the government announced Wednesday.

A child born last year can expect to make it to 78 years and 9 1/2 months — the same prediction made for the previous two years.

In most of the years since World War II, life expectancy in the U.S. has inched up —- thanks largely to medical advances, public health campaigns and better nutrition and education. The last time it was stuck for three years was in the mid-1980s.

What does this mean for the future solvency of Social Security? Beats the crap out of me. But it sure casts doubt on all those who preach “demography is destiny” and “we are all living longer so work until you are 70″.

On a more mathy note small changes in input into Social Security models can have amazing effects on output, particularly over 75 year actuarial projections. Tweak some mortality and immigration assumptions and results change dramatically. We don’t even have to go the MJ.ABW. Though More Jobs. At Better Wages would itself have some outsized effects.

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  1. bkrasting

    The author has an interesting suggesting on how to address the declining worker/dependency ratio issue in the US. From the comments section:

    If the “demographic destiny” problems is a shortage of young
    workers we know where to get them. Pull up a bus in Central
    America or a boat in the Phillipines (or a Syrian port) and you
    can get literal loads of new immigrant workers. And historically
    a boost in fertility numbers that goes with that.

    Bus loads from Syria? That’s going to fix things?

    1. run75441

      Bruce K:

      There is plenty of evidence supporting immigration having a role in support of a younger and vibrant work force. Joel Garreau in “300 million and Counting” other than being xenophobic. The end result of immigration has been a boost in younger population which is necessary for a vibrant work force. At the time of this article, the US was replacing itself at a 2.1 rate. Today, it is less with the exception of Hispanics. The growing Hispanic population will certainly have a larger role 2040 and beyond in the politics of this nation. However, a growing Hispanic population is not enough and we must look for other ways to grow the population and keep it young. Bruce’s thoughts are worthy and the US should have a brought spectrum of people from around the world.

      Then too there is also the problem of productivity gains not going to Labor and skewed to Capital. While Main Street paid for the collapse of Capital gambling by Wall Street and TBTF. This has to change otherwise Labor will be hamstrung with an ever decreasing portion of productivity gains and much lower incomes going into the future. Even Texas with its new governor has come to realize it is necessary to create well paying jobs beyond the role of burger flipper. Affordable education unhindered by unaffordable student loans with high interest rates indenture students to the Government and banks for a life time hindering their access to the housing, automotive, and other economic markets as I have shown in some of my preaching at Angry Bear. If it is bad for White America, it is even worst for Minority America as they start several rungs below the reigning establishment. Tom Hertz’s “Understanding Mobility in America” goes to great lengths explaining this phenomena.

      So is having a young vibrant Labor Force fed by immigration in the US important? Yes from my perspective it is. It is equally important to pave the way for them to be a productive and high earning segment of the population by knocking down those impediments exiting to being such. In the last wave of immigrants coming from Cuba, it was found that < than 1% of them had a history of violence. I can not believe it to be worst for those from the Middle East when the vetting process is longer and more involved.

      1. phil

        Another variable is the massive looming problem of job automation.
        Full study:

        A summary:

        Add to the above a worldwide population increase from today’s roughly 7.2Billion to roughly 11Billion by 2050.

        Thus, even allowing for some replenishment by new occupations),we will experience overall *decreasing employment opportunities* while at the same time adding almost 4Billion more people to the planet. (add to that the coming dislocations from climate change)

        An entirely new way of thinking about work is going to be necessary, including a lot of new thinking about many other variables that impact humanity.

    2. jrs

      If the workers are all poorly paid, which is what flooding the labor market will get you, how much does it really help? Social Security contributions into the fund but only as much as is paid on a minimum wage salary (if even that, I mean I am assuming legal not under the table wages). Now the Syrians who escape are often well educated (I think those who aren’t so privileged never make it to the west), so may not be all poorly paid.

  2. Barmitt O'Bamney

    How do Obots spin this, -and the coincidental death of the US middle class?

    Yeahbut that just affects white people, so you’re racist for even noticing this stuff. In fact the economy has never been better!

  3. Bruce Webb

    Krasting thanks for taking the bait. Or rather than reacting to the bloody chum I put in the water for trolling sharks. The Syrian thing wasn’t so much a solution as a provocation. Which worked. On you. As planned.

    But in all seriousness people from the Levant (Lebanon and Syria) have been famed as small business owners and entrepreneurs since Phoenician times and have added huge economic value to many countries including the U.S. Particularly from the various minorities that make up significant parts of the current refugees.

    In the 1970s the Irish-American community (including Congressman Peter King) offered significant shelter and financial support to terrorists from various violent and ultra-violent factions of an IRA that was conducting bombings all around Britain, targeting both military and civilian targets. I don’t recall a concerted effort to close Irish Bars and Catholic parishes or an effort to get the Irish to renounce Catholic canon law (every bit as binding on observant Catholics as sharia’a). Amazing how blonde and ginger hair changes those kind of equations.

    1. bkrasting

      Webb – What a clever guy you are! I must admit I was fooled.

      You say something stupid on your own blog at Angry Bear for the express purpose of deceiving your readers. I can’t think of another writer who would deliberately do that. Only you have the wisdom to lay the trap of “bloody chum”.

      Keep up the good work!

  4. Jim Haygood

    Russian life expectancy was on a downward trend from the late 1980s (just before the Berlin Wall fell) until as late as 2006. Since then, it has bounced slightly above the Sputnik levels of 1957. Chart:

    America’s similarly hollowed-out empire hasn’t even collapsed yet (though building more bases to “fight Isis” ought to do the trick soon enough). So we’ve got deeper depths to plumb.

    For Social Security, the breakeven for waiting till age 66 to claim (versus claiming a lower benefit at age 62) occurs at age 77. If you live beyond 77, it pays to wait and collect a larger benefit. If not, better to retire at 62 and “get it while you can,” as JJ used to say.

    1. polecat

      I will continue to plod along until my life expectancy reaches zero…….” in the end, we’re all dead!”

  5. Portia

    Diet plays an important part in health, something American medicine is still not recognizing. Adult Onset Diabetes (Type II) is directly related to diet, and the predominance of processed food and the fact that there are more poor Americans who can only afford processed food is a factor.

  6. Robert Dudek

    I was going to mention that comparing American life expectancy with Greece’s (surely lower now due to years of crisis) and noting inequality ignores two important differences. The first is the diet, which has much lower levels of refined carbohydrates and other industrialized food. The second is the difference in attitude to work and career.

  7. washunate

    “The economy” isn’t the same thing as GDP. That’s the underlying dynamic. Much of US GDP either is unrelated to public health or actually makes public health worse.

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