Why Are We Getting Worse? A Historical Accounting of Modern U.S. Life Expectancy Disadvantage

James A. Yonker, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Life expectancy in the US is lower than other high-income countries and growing slower (at least for females), resulting in widening US disadvantage. The paper seeks to (a) quantify the age, cause of death, and age by cause of death combinations from 1970 until now that account for both the overall US life expectancy disadvantage and its expansion; and (b) interrogate the seemingly puzzling finding of a US mortality advantage at very old ages that has an increasing age-crossover over time. We compute age- and cause-specific mortality rates using a combination of data from the Human Mortality Database and WHO. We decompose life expectancy into age, cause, and age by cause contributions cross-sectionally and for the change in the US life expectancy disadvantage over time. We model these components and estimate time trends both of the US disadvantage and of the causes of deaths that explain it over time.

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Presented in Session 25: Forecasting USA Mortality: Methods and New Findings