Study: Racism Costs Years of Life

The Los Angeles Times yesterday reported on a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California about “health disparities between whites and Blacks.” When translated out of the dry-as-dust language of public health and policy, what the reports tells is that racism costs Black Americans in years of their lives. And, conversely, that the racial privilege white Americans enjoy extends their lives by years.

According to the report, called “Death in the Golden State,” white men in California can expect to live an average of seven more years than black men, and white women in California live on average about five years longer than African American women, and these disparities persisted among those with similar levels of education.

The article (linked above) goes on to offer some interesting background on mortality statistics and the persistent Black-white gap:

“Nationally, the black-white life expectancy gap has been documented since at least 1900, when whites lived to be, on average, 47.3 years and blacks 33 years. (A study released earlier this year determined that the black-white life expectancy gap had narrowed from a 7.1-year gap in 1993 to a 5.3-year gap in 2003.)

In 1900, the leading causes of death were flu, pneumonia, diphtheria and tuberculosis — diseases that have drastically declined because of immunizations, medications, better nutrition and improved sanitation.

More than 100 years later, heart disease and cancer were the leading causes of death among all California adults ages 25 and older, and stroke was No. 3, except in Latino men, who more often died in accidents.

Accidents were the fourth-leading cause of death for African American men, and homicide was sixth. For Latinos, homicide was the seventh-leading cause of death; in whites, it was 20th.

Homicide, accidents and HIV — the eighth-leading cause of death for black men — tend to kill at younger ages. For black men who survive to 25, the life expectancy gap with white men shrinks from 6.9 to 5.6 years.

‘When you look at it in terms of mortality, you’re underestimating the magnitude of the disparity,’ said Dr. Toni Yancy of the UCLA School of Public Health Center to Eliminate Health Disparities. ‘HIV and violence kill relatively young people. Rather than just comparing death rates, compare the years of potential life lost.’

The article ends there without going on to discuss the variable that Dr. Yancy refers to, the “years of potential life lost.” It’s safe to say that this would reveal an even greater cost of racism.

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