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When it comes to determining how long you can expect to live, geography matters. While researchers previously understood that geographical disparities impacted people at birth, we now know that where you are living at age 50 matters just as much. Conditions and the general environment in which people at any age live, learn, work, play, and worship have tremendous influence on health and longevity. 

We have seen this play out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken an ever-rising death toll climbing into the hundreds of thousands, disproportionately affecting communities of color. Economic inequality and systemic disparities that existed long before the arrival of COVID-19 have compounded the impact of the virus. 


Economic inequality and systemic disparities that existed long before the arrival of COVID-19 have compounded the impact of the virus.


With GDP falling at a 32.9% annual rate – this threatens to widen economic and racial inequities even further. Improving the health of our nation as a whole will require geographically targeted investments at the county level. 

Equity in Aging: The Story of Human Longevity

AARP’s Global Thought Leadership team in collaboration with leading researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has embarked on an exploration of these geographic disparities in life expectancy at mid-adulthood. Our first report, entitled How Growing Geographic and Racial Disparities Inhibit the Ability to Live Longer and Healthier Lives (October 2020), provides a national-level analysis (1980-2014) of life expectancy data matched with geographic markers, and additional health data from the African American community. 

 

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KEY FINDINGS

  • Where you are born and where you are living at age 50 both matter

  • Geographic disparities in life expectancy grew across the U.S. from 1980 to 2014.

  • Geographic disparities between counties reflect economic and racial disparities.

  • While the data from this analysis predates COVID-19, rising geographic disparities may share common root causes with today’s dramatic disparities in mortality during the pandemic.

The Road Ahead: As we confront the current coronavirus pandemic, we need to address the root cause of disparities in deaths of Black Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Successful solutions will require interventions at the national, state, and local levels that address both the challenges and opportunities of aging societies. Achieving equity will require the public, nonprofit, and private sectors to expose and address the growing inequities across the lifespan that impact life expectancy. Read the nine recommended solutions and the full report.


[i] Kochanek KD, Anderson RN, Arias E. Changes in life expectancy at birth, 2010–2018. NCHS Health E-Stat. 2020.https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/life-expectancy/life-expectancy-2018.htm

[ii] Allegretto S, and Steven P. The Great Recession, Jobless Recoveries and Black Workers Focus Magazine, 38(1): 3-5. Oct/Nov, 2010 https://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/pdf/2010/the-great-recession.pdf

[iii] Millett GA, Honermann B, Jones A, et al. White Counties Stand Apart: The Primacy of Residential Segregation in COVID-19 and HIV Diagnoses [published online ahead of print, 2020 Aug 19]. AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2020;10.1089/apc.2020.0155. doi:10.1089/apc.2020.0155 



Suggested Citation

Tan, Erwin J. How Growing Geographic and Racial Disparities Inhibit the Ability to Live Longer and Healthier Lives - Report 1: National Level Analysis. Washington, DC: AARP Thought Leadership, October 2020. https://doi.org/10.26419/int.00046.001

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