Inequality in mortality decreased among the young while increasing for older adults, 1990–2010

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Science  06 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6286, pp. 708-712
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1437

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Narrowing of the life expectancy gap

In the United States, the rich can expect to enjoy better health and a longer life than the poor. Despite policies directed at improving the health of both the young and the poor, there is little evidence that this relationship has changed. Currie and Schwandt looked specifically at the life expectancy of present-day children and young adults, finding that mortality inequality has in fact declined over the past 25 years (see the Perspective by Bailey and Timpe).

Science, this issue p. 708; see also p. 661


Many recent studies point to increasing inequality in mortality in the United States over the past 20 years. These studies often use mortality rates in middle and old age. We used poverty level rankings of groups of U.S. counties as a basis for analyzing inequality in mortality for all age groups in 1990, 2000, and 2010. Consistent with previous studies, we found increasing inequality in mortality at older ages. For children and young adults below age 20, however, we found strong mortality improvements that were most pronounced in poorer counties, implying a strong decrease in mortality inequality. These younger cohorts will form the future adult U.S. population, so this research suggests that inequality in old-age mortality is likely to decline.

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