The life expectancy of black Americans is catching up to that of whites, thanks to declining mortality rates for some familiar causes of death, new government data show.
The gap between African Americans and white Americans fell to 3.6 years in 2013, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A black baby born in that year could expect to live 75.5 years, while a white baby born in the same year could expect to live to age 79.1.
In 1999, life expectancy was 71.4 years for blacks and 77.3 years for whites – a gap of 5.9 years.
The single biggest contributor to that 2.3-year decrease was a steeper decline in heart disease deaths for blacks than for whites. Reductions in heart disease mortality alone closed the life expectancy gap by 0.37 years (about 135 days).
African Americans also had greater gains than whites in mortality due to cancer, HIV, unintentional injuries and health problems during infancy. These trimmed the life expectancy gap by 118 days, 113 days, 102 days and 50 days, respectively.
Blacks lost ground compared to whites in three other areas – maternal conditions like pregnancy and childbirth, Alzheimer's disease and aortic aneurysms. Combined, these factors increased the gap by about 10 days, according to the report.
The racial disparity in life expectancy was smaller for women than for men. A black girl born in 2013 could expect to live for 78.4 years – three years less than the 81.4-year lifespan anticipated for a white girl.
However, both of these girls were likely to outlive boys of either race. A black boy born in 2013 had a life expectancy of 72.3 years, 4.4 years less than the 76.7 years for white boys.
Black men and women gained about the same amount of ground vis-à-vis whites – 2.4 years and 2.3 years, respectively.
The report was published Friday by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.