Report: In The U.S., Life Expectancy Is Linked To Political Orientation
According to Attorney General William Barr, America’s “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “deadly drug epidemic” are the result of an increasingly secular American culture — implying that only a return to traditional values could bring the United States back from the brink of despair.
But the data does not support such a theory as to why life expectancy in the U.S. is dropping while other advanced nations are living longer.
An analysis by The Washington Post’s Paul Krugman reveals that the political divide in America is mirrored by a life expectancy gap — one that sees bluer states and counties continuing the trend of increased longevity while those which lean red have hit a standstill.
The cause of this massive fissure — which currently sees Americans in blue states outliving their red state counterparts by four years — is in no small part a matter of economics, Krugman writes.
“Democratic-leaning areas used to look similar to Republican-leaning areas in terms of productivity, income and education,” the economist notes. “But they have been rapidly diverging, with blue areas getting more productive, richer and better educated. In the close presidential election of 2000, counties that supported Al Gore over George W. Bush accounted for only a little over half the nation’s economic output.”
By the time we get to the close election of 2016, Krugman says, “counties that supported Hillary Clinton accounted for 64 percent of output, almost twice the share of Trump country.”
Life expectancy follows the same pattern. While the U.S. has long trailed other advanced countries, in recent years the gap has only widened. This is the “result of increased mortality among working-age Americans,” fueled largely by a rise in “deaths of despair,” which include drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related deaths.
But within the U.S., the effects of this decline are not evenly distributed.
Krugman notes a 2018 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which examined changes in health and life expectancy across the 50 U.S. states from 1990 to 2016.
He analyzed the data in terms of states that went for President Donald Trump in the last election compared to those that voted for Clinton, calculating the average life expectancy weighted by the population in 2016.
“In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy,” Krugman found. “Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country.
“At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.”
One might be tempted to say that this disparity is the result of “deaths of despair in eastern heartland,” Krugman says, but that would be inaccurate. He offers Texas and Florida as examples:
“Consider our four most populous states. In 1990, Texas and Florida had higher life expectancy than New York and almost matched California; today, they’re far behind.”
Though the answer to the question of why the political divide would affect life expectancy is complex, Krugman points to a few factors likely involved.
Differences in public policy is likely one, he writes, as blue states expanded Medicaid in recent years while most red states opted against doing so. Another factor is likely the educational gap, as Americans in blue states tend to be more educated than their red-state peers, and better-educated people tend to be healthier on the whole.
Despite the complexity of the situation, one thing is clear, Krugman notes: “the facts are utterly inconsistent with the conservative diagnosis of what ails America.”
The likes of Barr, who claim American secularization is to blame, fail to acknowledge that “European nations, which are far more secularist than we are, haven’t seen a comparable rise in deaths of despair and an American-style decline in life expectancy.”
And while conservative thinking continues to point in the wrong direction, Americans continue losing years off their lives.