Life expectancy in the United States: international and domestic comparisons by ages and causes of death

Vladimir Canudas Romo, Michal Engelman


There is a widening gap between life expectancy in the United States and other high-longevity countries (HLCs) and substantial disparities in survival across racial and ethnic groups in America. In this paper we analyze the contribution of age- and cause-specific mortality to life expectancy differences between the United States and other HLCs, and across American subpopulations. Using decomposition techniques and data for 2000-2007, we compare the US to 22 HLCs; American whites to HLCs and to blacks; and US Hispanics to non-Hispanic whites. US life expectancy is lower that of other HLCs by over 2 years, mostly due to deaths between ages 40 to 79. Neoplasms, circulatory diseases, and external causes are the main contributors to the differential, with infant mortality accounting for over 7%. The gap persists when the comparison is limited to U.S whites. At older ages, Americans’ survival is better than that of their international counterparts.  White females live 4.52 years longer than black females, and 2.67 years less than Hispanic females on average. The Hispanic advantage becomes most apparent after age 60. The main causes contributing to the international gap also account for most of the domestic disparities. America’s low standing in international comparisons of life expectancy reflects internal inequalities along multiple dimensions including but not limited to race.


Vladimir CANUDAS ROMO, Associated Professor, Department of Biostatistics, University of Copenhagen, Oester Farimagsgade 5, Copenhagen, Denmark. E-mail: Department of Population, Family & Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N Wolfe Street, Room E4634, Baltimore MD 21205. E-mail:


Michal ENGELMAN, PhD, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637. E-mail:


life expectancy, causes of death, longevity, United States

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ISSN: 2035-5556

Reg. Tribunale di Roma n. 3321/54