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Why Do Europeans Live Longer Than Americans?


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Source: Inequality.org

Demographers looking back — years from now — on America’s annual mortality rates are going to find an asterisk on the years 2020 and 2021. The text behind that asterisk is going to give the reason why so many more Americans died in those particular years than the years right before.

The explanation, of course, will be the Covid-19 pandemic.

But those demographers of the future, to really understand American mortality in the early decades of the 21st century, are going to need another asterisk. They’re going to need an explanation why Americans of that era, before the pandemic hit, were living significantly shorter lives than their peers elsewhere in the developed world.

How much shorter? A just-published study from a global team of 27 social scientists from 13 different developed nations offers up some numbers that will take most Americans completely by surprise.

Back in 1990, the new data detail, White Americans showed the same 76-year average life-spans as the general populations of England, Germany, France, Netherlands, Norway, and Spain, with Black Americans trailing behind by seven years. By 2018, Black Americans had nearly halved the life-span gap with their White American counterparts. But those same White Americans had fallen well behind the Europeans. Their life-spans — right before the pandemic — trailed the European average by about the same three years that U.S. Blacks trailed U.S. Whites.

“White Americans have increasingly lost ground compared to Europeans,” the new international mortality study concludes, “with substantial gaps in mortality rates opening between Europeans and White Americans.”

“The comparisons with Europe,” the National Bureau of Economic Research study continues, “suggest that mortality rates of both Black and White Americans could fall much further across all ages and across richer and poorer areas.”

So what’s stopping those U.S. mortality rates from falling that “much further”? Certainly not money. The United States now spends twice as much, per capita, on health care as the average European nation.

How much money different nations spend on health care, in other words, simply does not automatically predict their health outcomes. How nations distribute their money, on the other hand, appears to tell us a great deal.

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