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Home > Research Articles > Life expectancy reached a record high of 76.9 years. Gaps between blacks and whites, men and women narrowing, report says

Associated Press

Sunday, September 15, 2002

U.S. life expectancy reaches 76.9 years Gaps between blacks and whites, men and women narrowing, report says

Associated Press Originally published September 13, 2002

WASHINGTON - Death is on the decline for babies, adults and older people alike, with AIDS, homicide, cancer and heart disease all claiming fewer lives, the government reports in its annual look at American health. Life expectancy reached a record high of 76.9 years, with the gaps between blacks and whites as well as men and women narrowing over time.

The report released yesterday looks at health trends spanning the second half of the 20th century and finds improvement on almost every measure.

"When you take the long view, you see clearly how far we've come," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

With better medical care and a drop in smoking rates, death rates for heart disease have been cut more than half, and they have declined even more drastically for stroke and other cerebrovascular disease.

Death rates from injuries, particularly motor vehicle crashes, have also fallen since about 1970, with safer cars on the road and more people wearing seat belts.

It's not all good news. Death rates for diabetes, along with the number of cases, are climbing, largely the result of a sharp increase in obesity.

All of these factors contribute to life expectancy, and people are certainly living longer.

The average baby born in 1900 could expect to live 47.3 years and that gauge has been climbing ever since. By 1950, life expectancy had risen to 68.2, and it reached 76.9 in 2000.

Throughout the century, women and whites have lived longer, but those gaps are closing, the report shows.

In 1950, whites lived 8.3 years longer than blacks. By 2000, that gap was 5.6 years.

For gender, the gap was at its peak in 1970, when women lived 7.6 years longer than men. By 2000, the gap was 5.4 years.

The report found drops in death at every stage of life and for many diseases. Specifically:

Infant mortality: The portion of babies dying before their first birthday was at a record low in 2000, 6.9 per 1,000 live births. That rate has fallen 75 percent since 1950.

Young deaths: Mortality among children and young adults, between 12 months and 24 years, declined by more than half since 1950. Researchers credited drops in death rates in accidents, cancer, heart disease and infectious diseases.

Adults: Death among adults age 25 to 44 declined by more than 40 percent between 1950 and 1999. In the mid-1990s, HIV was the leading cause of death for this age group, but the rates have fallen significantly.

Older adults: Mortality among adults age 45 to 64 fell by nearly 50 percent, including drops in heart disease, stroke and injury.

Heart disease: Much of the improvement in life expectancy is traced to falling heart disease rates. In 1950, just over 585 people in the United States developed heart disease for every 100,000. By 1999, that had been more than cut in half, falling to just under 268 per 100,000.

Stroke: In 1950, nearly 181 of every 100,000 people died of stroke and other cerebrovascular disease. By 1999, it was 62 per 100,000.