White women's life expectancy shrinks a bit

Story highlights

  • Non-Hispanic White women have a slightly lower life expectancy, dropping 0.1 year
  • Life expectancy for non-Hispanic black men and for Hispanic men increased 0.1
  • Life expectancy at birth for Hispanic women increased 0.2 years

(CNN)White girls born this year may not live as long as white girls born the year before, according to new life expectancy research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The news is better for non-Hispanic black males and Hispanic men and women. Life expectancy is the number of years you can expect to live based on a statistical average for the population.

The experts from the National Center for Health Statistics ran the numbers for the years 2013 and 2014 and found non-Hispanic white women have a slightly lower life expectancy, dropping 0.1 year.
    That may sound like a small change, but "life expectancy numbers for the population have been rather stagnant for some time," said author Elizabeth Arias. Arias is the demographer with NCHS who created the report. "It is still not trivial if you put it in the context with the other research."
    Overall life expectancy at birth for the U.S. population did not change. It's at 78.8 years. For non-Hispanic black men, their life expectancy at birth increased 0.1 years and the same was true for Hispanic men. For Hispanic women the news was even better. Life expectancy for them at birth increased 0.2 years. There was no change among non-Hispanic black women nor was there any for non-Hispanic white men.
    While there still is a significant life expectancy gap between the non-Hispanic white population and all the other racial and ethnic groups, the gap, especially for the non-Hispanic black population, has shrunk significantly. Experts consider this an encouraging trend.
    But the decline in life expectancy for women does give one "a little pause," said Ellen Meara, an associate professor of health policy and clinical practice at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. "It does bear scrutiny."
    It's hard to know what is driving this trend since it is one year's worth of data. It could be a blip or there could be something significant happening to shorten white women's lives. More years of data will be needed for the experts to figure out what the trend may be.
    In years past, Meara said, looking at data from the 1990s to 2000, less educated white women saw slight declines in survival rates largely due to tobacco use, which contributed to lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as cardiac problems.
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    Research earlier this year showed Americans die younger than people in other high-income countries in large part due to drug poisonings, gun injuries and car accidents. Another study showed that death rates among middle aged white Americans, unlike other age groups, have been on the rise since 1999.
    "Even a small decrease in life expectancy is disappointing news for women," Meara said.