Health Inequalities: Why do Latinos Live Longer than Whites?

Is summarized below for each state (source) – and it shows some very interesting patterns.

us-life-expectancy-by-race

The average life expectancy of Asian-Americans (86.5 years) is 4 years higher than in Japan – the longest-lived big East Asian country. Taiwan and South Korea are at around 80; Hong Kong is at 83; Singapore is at 81. The other East Asian countries aren’t developed yet, so there isn’t much point in comparison.

The LE of Latinos is 82.8, which is 6 years more than in Mexico, 4 years more than in the longest-lived Latin American countries and even a year higher than in Spain (one of the longest-lived European countries). This is despite the fact that obesity rates among Hispanics in the US is very high – higher than those of whites.

On average American whites can expect to live to just 78.9 – the same as in Chile or Denmark (the shortest-lived Western European country). A most curious anomaly, given their higher SES and lower obesity rates relative to Hispanics.

Blacks can expect to live around 74.2 years. This is far higher than in any African country, but the comparison is flawed for obvious reasons. It is however pretty close to the life expectancy in predominantly mulatto Caribbean countries like Jamaica (73 years) or the Bahamas (75 years), countries which are more suitable for comparison.

Native Americans average 76.9 years, though they are spread out all across the spectrum – ranging from 80 in California, to 69 in Montana.

Some questions and issues to ponder:

(1) The influence of diet and lifestyle: This is pretty clear-cut in the case of the Native Americans; the groups with life expectancy at around ~70 are no doubt brought down by those of them who live in alcohol-soaked reservations. This is the same life expectancy in Russia and some other former Soviet countries, where binge drinking of spirits is likewise prevalent. But it is genuinely interesting to consider why Latinos, who are more obese than whites, nonetheless manage to live so consistently longer – both relative to white Americans, and even to Spaniards. Likewise for Asians – although Asian-Americans are inevitably more influenced by American food habits than East Asians in their own countries – which are said to have far healthier national cuisines – they nonetheless manage to live significantly longer than them.

(2) The influence of the US healthcare system: It is frequently slammed and denigrated, but how to explain that the two biggest immigrant groups – Latinos and Asians – live a lot longer than in their countries of origin (including the developed ones)? Conversely, why would white America, if it were a separate country, be at near the very bottom of the life expectancy charts compared to Western European countries?

(3) One rejoinder is that immigrants to the US are better-educated, higher-IQ, and/or richer than the average in their countries of origin. As such, they are expected to have a higher life expectancy anyway. But this is patently not the case regarding Hispanics, and only partially true regarding Asians (Chinese Americans include both low-class indentured laborers who migrated in the 19th century, as well as far more commercially successful recent migrants from the Chinese diaspora of South-East Asia; the Japanese-American community is mostly descended from low-class laboring immigrants from the 19th century).

(4) The r/K selection theory plausibly explains the Black – White – Asian life expectancy sequence, especially in the US where they all share more or less the same cultural and healthcare environment. The case of the Latinos, however, remains rather shrouded; one possibility is that Amerindians (which is what many Hispanic immigrants to the US predominantly are) are more K-selected than whites – they did, after all, branch off from the proto-Mongoloids – and thus naturally have higher life expectancies than whites.

(5) Asian-Americans and Latinos are younger than whites. This does not have a direct effect on life expectancy (unlike on crude mortality), but with a greater ratio of young people to elderly – not to mention stronger family values – it does perhaps mean that elderly Asian-Americans and Latinos get more attention and care from their family members, thus reducing stress/depression levels and enabling them to eke out one or two more years than they would have otherwise.

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