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by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 28
March 2023
Chart
07:00

Why are Americans dying so young?

US life expectancy is falling well behind Europe
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Ashley Ahn/NPR

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. 

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Amy Horseman
Amy Horseman
8 months ago

Can’t possibly be anything to do with the obscene amount of pharmaceutical drugs that are pumped into their bodies, including the latest heavily mandated injections that contain unprecedented levels of toxic material.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Amy Horseman

Not really, because most of Europes vaccination rate was higher than the States

j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Amy Horseman

And if you are worried about that you ought to be banging on much more about the thousands of deaths from firearms. That’s a much more unique and clear statistical difference.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
8 months ago
Reply to  Amy Horseman

Here in Brooklyn nearly half the people I know are taking anti-anxiety meds. Nearly everyone over fifty takes drugs to control their blood pressure. Women dose up to control the symptoms of menopause. And that’s not to mention the ones people don’t talk about; acne treatments, sleeping pills, painkillers for every discomfort, etc. It’s crazy!

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
8 months ago
Reply to  Amy Horseman

Have you guys ever met the USA Underclass?

They have no equivalent in Europe. I recommend some TV shows on US inner cities and Appalachia and East LA.

They will wreck any bell graph you put them into…..

Saul D
Saul D
8 months ago

Perhaps it’s a feature not a bug? What if Americans are wealthier because they are freer and more willing to take a risk, but the cost of those risks weighs heavily on life expectancy.
Given the choice would you prefer to die wealthy at 73 or to die poorer at 78?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

How many Americans actually die richer than their European counterparts though? I’d guess the difference between the (mean) average and median salary in the States is much more pronounced than in other comparable nations

Ray Hall
Ray Hall
8 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

If you get to 73, you might want to reconsider your options….

Tony Price
Tony Price
8 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

I doubt that it is the rich entrepreneurs who die 5 years earlier!

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
8 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

Also:

Who is dieing early – and would it be better if they lived another decade? I would like an article on that!

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
8 months ago

While the US has had lower average lifespans for years, if you look again at the graph above you will see that about half the current difference occurred after our somewhat fiery but mostly peaceful summer of love. Steve Sailor has expertly shown that the death rates of blacks by homicide and in car accidents have sky rocketed since the killing of Floyd and subsequent protests/riots/insurrections. There are two opposing theories for this: A) a big increase in systemic racism or B) de-policing which has allowed American blacks greater freedom to act in ways that get themselves killed.
https://www.takimag.com/article/the-floyd-effect/

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

As the Author alludes this is not a new trend. The difference evident for decades and been the subject of much debate between international health policy analysts for years – so we need a bit of caution about how much issues such as more recent Fentanyl explosion contribute, albeit certainly doesn’t help.
Of course it’s never just one thing. The fact c45k firearm deaths last year in US pretty unique. Obesity is more prevalent for sure. And the canary in the mine – inequality is greater and there seems to be something physical and psychological related to health and one’s positional status in a society.
Whilst the US spends almost double per capita on healthcare it’s much less evenly distributed than in Western Europe and certainly primary care of the type available in western Europe often lacking for millions.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
8 months ago

I am no gun advocate, but let’s be real about the effect of guns in America on overall life expectancy. It’s nil. Do the math, sir. If you took all the ( non-legitimate law enforcement ) homicides by firearm in the United States, and added them into the mortality statistics, those statistics would not be changed by .01 %. So, please stop the virtue signaling.
Drug-related deaths are another matter. If we could get our spineless politicians in Washington, D.C. to re-establish an actual border with Mexico, these deaths could be cut in half.
There are more factors in play, of course, with mortality comparisons, and I won’t test the patience or “tolerance” of the “woke” and CRT readers with the specifics. But they are real.
And then there’s abortion…

Last edited 8 months ago by Gerald gwarcuri
Anthony Roe
Anthony Roe
8 months ago

America is importing vast numbers of people from very poor and unhealthy countries, this is bound to skew the figures. If you took the average WASP and compared them to the average native Briton the answer would be somewhat different.

D Glover
D Glover
8 months ago
Reply to  Anthony Roe

.

Last edited 8 months ago by D Glover
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

Those US commentators “feeling sorry” for England (entirely ignorant of geography, and much else) in another article should take note:

I feel sorry for the US, a dreadful parody of what the “free world” should look like.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

HEY!!!!

I am from UK and USA, and am equally fluent at both dialects and cultures.

USA Has some ‘Free World’ left in it, unlike the Prison World which is Western Europe and UK.

I feel sorry for you Brits and the dingy and hyper controlled world you live in. I love to stay in London, it is where I am from, and always returned to, and still think of as home….

But give me 2 weeks and I have had enough. What you guys have done to Britain in the last 40 years is horrific.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
8 months ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

I’m in exactly the same situation as you are interestingly enough.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
8 months ago

Give me liberty or give me death!
Apparently, we now get both. (Or did we lose liberty? I’m not sure.)

Last edited 8 months ago by Brian Villanueva
Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
8 months ago

We’re too fat (precursor to comorbid with much of what will kill you) and terribly medicated. Majority of “gun related” deaths are suicide, and of most of the others are attributable to gang violence; average Joe citizen doesn’t have much to be worried about there.

Last edited 8 months ago by Cho Jinn
AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago

There’s a risk involved in comparing bare population figures. Many ’causes’ may be proposed, but only single causes seized by activists.
If we were to collect extremely detailed data (rather than population averages) and subject it to multivariate analysis we might well be able to explain the difference between the highly abstracted statistics as 10% due to this cause, 5% due to that cause, and so on.
Having done all that… what are we going to do about it, if anything?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

The article picked up on a few of the major ones though which would certainly cause the average to drop. Poor access to healthcare for those less well off, vast tent cities of homeless people addicted to opioids thanks to the way doctors earn kickbacks for prescribing them, a high murder rate (especially guns) compared to other first world countries and a high number of road deaths (which I must admit I can’t really think of a reason for)

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

On the road deaths, I read somewhere that they don’t really have roundabouts. Just intersections with traffic lights. But that might annecdata.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

It’s true, they have no idea how a roundabout works. Junctions and traffic lights should be safer in theory though as you can only go when everything else has been stopped for you

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

There were three in my little New Hampshire town, and I hear they’re building a fourth. We know how to use them.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
8 months ago

The reason there are more road deaths per capita in the US than in the UK or Europe is hardly surprising. What you need to look at is the miles driven per person. Distances are much much larger than in the UK and Europe. Commuting 50 miles each way by car every day is no big deal in the US, but would be unthinkable in the UK. Further the freeways/motorways are often very busy and have 6 or more lanes compared to at most 3 in the UK and generally 2. So of course the chances of getting into a major accident are higher in the US.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

That is entirely too logical.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago

We are getting more roundabouts all the time. At first we are angry at them, then they start to make sense.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

We love our guns, our cars, and our freedom. Americans are more willing to take risks for the sake of freedom. Or maybe I should say, “have been.” The culture of safetyism has steadily eroded the American spirit starting decades ago.

Tony Price
Tony Price
8 months ago

Having an awful health ‘care’ system certainly doesn’t help; my wife has just told me about an article showing the bill for a lady who had just given birth to twins with no particular complications just the extra care that entails – total cost c.$250,000 and despite the very best medical insurance she had to pay out $6,000 herself – how does that leave the bottom half of society?

I get the impression that amateur sport in the USA is an outlier, the regulations on dodgy food additives etc are lax compared to Europe, and environmental protection can be minimal. Still at least government meddling is minimal (and still way too much apparently).

It would be interesting to see the stats on life expectancy for the top 50% of society as measured by income/wealth vs. the bottom 50% – do they exist? There is certainly a disparity in the UK.

There is an apposite article in today’s Guardian sort of on the subject (if you dare read it in case you get some sort of liberal infection): https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2023/mar/28/healthspan-revolution-how-to-live-long-strong-happy-life

Robbie K
Robbie K
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Good observation on the cost of healthcare, also medication, it’s eyewatering. No doubt many people just tolerate their ailments, leading to complications.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Don’t you think that $6000 is a pretty decent price for two healthy babies? They might even be worth $250,000! All kidding aside, the atrocious cost of “health” care in U.S. is due mostly to the free market system not being applied to medical care, unlike every other private sector commodity we pay for. I know, I know, medical care should not be thought of as a “commodity.” Why not? It would result in better (or at least as good) care and lower prices. Get the insurance companies out (expect perhaps for catastrophic events) and let the medical personnel have to deal with medicine instead of paperwork.

Last edited 8 months ago by betsyarehart
Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
8 months ago

We know there is significant health care disparities in the US and I would be interested to know if this longevity issue changes if childhood mortality is removed?
By this I mean – what would the comparitors be if we looked at expected life starting from (say) 50 years old? Thus removing higher childhood mortality.

Ray Hall
Ray Hall
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

I think actuarial tables would give you that answer . If I recall correctly , the chances of reaching your next birthday seem to be fractionally higher in the UK for all ages. Within each of the two countries there are geographical areas which are less “favourable’ ( if that is the word ) to us Brits. Re Mr Scrivener’s comment about Scottish vs US drug deaths, I don’t know, but I understand Scotland’s life expectancy is overall more similar to the USA’s than is the case with the other countries in the UK.
I am open to correction if my recollections are wrong

Charles Levett-Scrivener
Charles Levett-Scrivener
8 months ago

“The American opioid epidemic has no European equivalent ”

Have a look at Scotland’s drug deaths per million of population.

Emre S
Emre S
8 months ago

I suspect it also relates to the food. Not only the GMO stuff, but the additives and in general unhealthy eating culture.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago

If you travel in the US you might notice that the worst obesity is in areas that are very cold in winter. The population is nowadays protected from this cold by central heating and enclosed carports but still consumes the same volume of calories as before. Killed by comfort.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Doesn’t Texas have the fattest city in America? Not exactly the Antarctic there is it

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
8 months ago

The lower life expectancy in the US is not surprising. Recall that life expectancy refers to expected lifespan at birth, not for example, how long one might expect to live having reached say the age of 70. This is absolutely critical to understand what’s going on in the numbers and especially the highly skewed nature of the distribution. Just as an example, infant and maternal mortality is much higher in the US than in Europe but this is not among the middle or upper classes, but among a specific lower class set of demographics. Likewise, the murder rate is huge, but again is restricted largely to a specific demographic.
If, on the other hand, one were to look at overall cancer survival, one would generally find that among those treated, life expectancy from the time of onset of first symptoms or signs is significantly higher than in any European country.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

I would also place obesity in that demographic. I live in a poor county in a poor southwestern state and I see a lot of obesity when I go to town 35 miles away. My village however has a “higher class” demographic (old hippies) and there is little obesity.