Chart of the Day: Life expectancy for poor US women is declining

life expectancy gap chart

According to a new analysis from the Brookings Institute, the life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor in the US is growing, especially among women.

Comparing life expectancy at age 55 between folks born in 1920 vs. 1940 found that men, overall, have gained an additional five years — with the richest men gaining six years and the poorest gaining less than two. On average, women still live longer than men, but their life expectancy has increased by less than one year overall during this time. While the richest women have gained a few years, life expectancy among the poorest 40 percent has actually declined from the previous generation. The WSJ sums it up in the chart above. 

As I’ve written before, the fact that life expectancy is decreasing for some women in this country is pretty astounding. A county-level study from a few years ago described this recent dip as the biggest since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. But instead of a single virus being to blame, it’s likely due to a complicated interplay of factors — from lack of access to good food and clean air to the damaging health affects of living in poverty itself to perhaps even loneliness.

But there are some easy, concrete things we could do about it. While it by no means guarantees a long life, ensuring that poor folks at the very least have access to health care when they get sick would probably be a good idea. Instead dozens of states — many of them the same poor, rural states that are seeing these drops in life expectancy — are still refusing to expand Medicaid coverage, which could lead to an estimated 17,000 unnecessary deaths.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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