US life expectancy is falling well behind Europe
Most of us Brits realise that the US is richer than the UK. But just how much richer still has the power to shock. In 2021, American GDP per capita was $69,185 while the mother country got by on just $46,542. In fact, viewed state by state, America is richer than almost all of Europe. Only special cases like Norway, Denmark and Switzerland do better.
However, before European readers feel too inferior, there’s a twist in the tale — despite their superior wealth, American lifespans are significantly shorter. In fact, as the above chart from NPR shows, the longevity gap between the US and comparable countries is widening.
Or, to to use a straight comparison between the US and UK, life expectancy for American men was 73.2 years compared to 78.7 years for their British counterparts. The difference between American and British women was somewhat narrower, but still marked — with the former at 79.1 years and the latter at 82.8 years.
Some of this is due to Covid-related factors. However, the long-term trend shows that the death gap was widening even before the pandemic.
Perhaps we can blame long-term factors like inequality. Just because America enjoys a higher level of GDP per capita than most of Europe doesn’t mean that the wealth is evenly distributed. However, this can’t be the whole — or even the main — explanation. As the NPR article makes clear, like-for-like comparisons — i.e. rich Americans with rich Europeans etc — still show the US at a disadvantage.
Indeed, the recent news that life expectancy is now longer in China than the US underlines the fact that Americans can only expect to live as long as the citizens of middle-income countries, never mind Europe or Japan.
So perhaps the problem is having too much money — and too many unhealthy habits to spend it on. After all, this is a country where a Republican presidential candidate once wrote a book entitled Quit digging your grave with a knife and fork. And yet, if one controls for factors like obesity and smoking, the long-term evidence is that Americans still die earlier.
So is America itself bad for your health? In a way, yes. And that’s because this is a country that excels at putting the means of self-destruction in its people’s hands — literally so in the case of guns, drugs and steering wheels.
In the US, firearm homicides per capita are 22 times higher than in the EU. The American opioid epidemic has no European equivalent — mainly because European healthcare systems didn’t hand out powerful painkillers like sweeties, which prepped the population for the illegal fentanyl trade. Meanwhile, the death rate on the roads is 12.4 per 100,000 people in the US compared to 2.9 in the UK.
There are many things to admire about the American people. Not least, that so many of them disregard the ideology of safetyism. Nevertheless, there is a price to pay for recklessness — and Americans in all walks of life are paying dearly.