Where you live has a deep impact on life expectancy—as much as nearly eight years. And state policies are the culprit.
A new study from Syracuse University looked at state life expectancies from 1970 to 2014 and cross-referenced them with 18 of those states’ policies on topics ranging from abortion to guns to labor law, while controlling for population differences such as income and age. The researchers found that 10 of the 18 policy categories strongly predict life expectancy, and that in all cases except for marijuana laws, more liberal policies predict longer lives, particularly on tobacco, immigration, civil rights, labor laws (including minimum wage) and the environment. Labor laws alone, when in line with blue states’ policies, add one year onto lives.
“Americans die younger than people in other high-income countries,” says lead author Jennifer Karas Montez, a sociology professor at Syracuse University. “This gap emerged in the 1980s and has grown ever since. Since that time, gaps in life expectancy between U.S. states also expanded. These two trends are related.”
According to 2017 data, some notable state life expectancies are:
- Hawaii: 81.62
- California: 81.19
- New York: 81
- Minnesota: 80.78
- Connecticut: 80.71
- Arkansas: 78.42
- Alabama: 75.41
- Kentucky: 75.32
- Mississippi: 74.77
- West Virginia: 74.65
In 1980, before Oklahoma embarked on one of the most conservative policy tracks in the country, Oklahoma and Connecticut had similar life expectancies, of 73-74 years. They have since diverged sharply, with Oklahoma’s life expectancy (76) in line with those of Serbia and Brazil, and Connecticut’s (80.7) in line with that of Denmark. Conservative policies, the researchers found, have had a particularly brutal impact on life expectancies over the last decade.
Women’s lifespans are disproportionately impacted by changes in policy. The researchers found that if more liberal policies were instated nationwide, women’s life expectancies would increase by 2.8 years and men’s by 2.1 years, returning U.S. life expectancy to par with high-income countries. Nationwide conservative policies would decrease life expectance by 2 years.
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