In D.C., Life Expectancy Gap Shrinking Between Blacks and Whites

People in D.C. are expected to live longer these days than a decade ago, and the gap between whites and blacks is shrinking.

This is according to a new study released yesterday by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which examined average life expectancies across 3,148 counties and jurisdictions.

D.C. Life Expectancy (2007)
Men, 1997 Men, 2007 Women, 1997 Women, 2007
White 70.3 years 75.1 years 79.3 years 81.3 years
Black 61.7 years 68.9 years 73.6 years 76.8 years
National Rank 1,984th 1,806th

In 1997, the averages for both whites and blacks were shorter, and the disparity between the races was larger. The gap between black and white men has decreased by 2.4 years; between black and white women, it’s decreased by 1.2 years.

The study didn’t look into the causes for the changes in life expectancy, but a few things stand out to us:

  • The life expectancy for D.C.’s black men jumped from 61.7 years in 1997 to 68.9 in 2007. But there still remains a gap despite such a dramatic gain.
  • Nationally, the gap between whites and blacks is expanding. But the demographics of D.C. are changing, with more white residents moving in and more black residents leaving. The life expectancy for blacks in Prince George’s County, Md., one of the suburbs to where many black D.C. residents have relocated, saw only slim increases in life expectancies for black men and women.
  • As the Washington Post points out, “Life expectancy is an abstract concept that summarizes the health and threats to longevity that exist at a particular moment in history. It is not an actual measure of how long people are living.” So D.C.’s black residents may be expected to live longer now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their lives are better.
  • People are expected to live longer in some area suburbs than in the District itself. Fairfax County, Va. has the highest life expectancy for men in the country, and Montgomery County, Md. has the third highest nationally. Those rankings stand in stark contrast to the District’s 1,984th ranking for men and 1,806th ranking for women.
  • Alan Page

    I think one possible answer is lower income black residents moved out as the cost of living went up in DC from 97-07 and the remaining black residents in 2007 likely had a higher income than the black population in 1997. Income often factors into life expectancy.

  • Elahe Izadi

    Thanks for the comment! I wonder as well how the demographic shift in the District has contributed to this change. I think I may do a follow-up post on this to address your point.