Life Spans For Least Educated Whites Drop

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 21 2012 11:46 AM

Whites Without a High School Diploma Aren't Living as Long as They Once Did

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Researchers say higher rates of smoking among less educated white women may be one of the causes behind a drop in life expectancy

Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

The New York Times has the details on a new study that suggests what the paper called "disturbingly sharp drops" in the life expectancy of white Americans without a high school diploma.

A handful of recent studies have identified the trend of declining life expectancies of those Americans with the least education, but this new one is particularly depressing for whites in that demographic, who saw their average life expectancy fall by four years between 1990 and 2008.

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The NYT explains the possible causes:

"The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance."

Within the white subset, women were particularly hard hit, suffering a five-year drop in life expectancy compared to a three-year drop for their male counterparts. The decline for females was so bad, in fact, that it left at least one health expert comparing it to the seven-year drop Russian men saw in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse.

More numbers via the Times:

"The latest estimate shows life expectancy for white women without a high school diploma was 73.5 years, compared with 83.9 years for white women with a college degree or more. For white men, the gap was even bigger: 67.5 years for the least educated white men compared with 80.4 for those with a college degree or better."

Blacks and Hispanics without a high school degree saw their life expectancy rise over the years studied. Blacks, however, do not live as long as whites in general; Hispanics, meanwhile, tend to live longer than both whites and blacks.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.