How California and Virginia can be as different as Liechtenstein and Brunei

American life expectancy has leapt up some 30 years in the past century, and we now live roughly 79.8 years on average. That’s not terrible, but it’s not fantastic either: We rank 35th in the world as far as lifespan, nestled right between Costa Rica and Chile. But looking at life expectancy by state, it becomes clear that where you live in America, at least to some extent, determines when you’ll die.

Here, I’ve found the life expectancy for every state to the tenth of a year using the data and maps from the Measure of America, a nonprofit group that tracks human development. Then, I paired it up with the nearest country by life expectancy from the World Health Organization’s 2013 data. When there was no country with that state’s exact life expectancy, I paired it with the nearest matching country, which was always within two-tenths of a year.

There’s profound variation by state, from a low of 75 years in Mississippi to a high of 81.3 in Hawaii. Mostly, we resemble tiny, equatorial hamlets like Kuwait and Barbados. At our worst, we look more like Malaysia or Oman, and at our best, like the United Kingdom. No state approaches the life expectancies of most European countries or some Asian ones. Icelandic people can expect to live a long 83.3 years, and that’s nothing compared to the Japanese, who live well beyond 84.

Life expectancy can be causal, a factor of diet, environment, medical care, and education. But it can also be recursive: People who are chronically sick are less likely to become wealthy, and thus less likely to live in affluent areas and have access to the great doctors and Whole-Foods kale that would have helped them live longer.

It’s worth noting that the life expectancy for certain groups within the U.S. can be much higher—or lower—than the norm. The life expectancy for African Americans is, on average, 3.8 years shorter than that of whites. Detroit has a life expectancy of just 77.6 years, but that city’s Asian Americans can expect to live 89.3 years.

But overall, the map reflects what we’d expect: People in southern states, which generally have lower incomes and higher obesity rates, tend to die sooner, and healthier, richer states tend to foster longevity.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

    An Apartment List report reveals the cities apartment-hunters are targeting for their next move—and shows that tales of a California exodus may be overstated.

  2. photo: Dominque Walker, founder of Moms 4 Housing, n the kitchen of the vacant house in West Oakland that the group occupied to draw attention to fair housing issues.
    Equity

    A Group of Mothers, a Vacant Home, and a Win for Fair Housing

    The activist group Moms 4 Housing occupied a vacant home in Oakland to draw attention to the city’s affordability crisis. They ended up launching a movement.

  3. photo: A Lyft scooter on the streets of Oakland in July.
    Transportation

    4 Predictions for the Electric Scooter Industry

    Dockless e-scooters swept cities worldwide in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, expect the battery-powered micromobility revolution to take a new direction.

  4. photo: a pair of homes in Pittsburgh
    Equity

    The House Flippers of Pittsburgh Try a New Tactic

    As the city’s real estate market heats up, neighborhood groups say that cash investors use building code violations to encourage homeowners to sell.  

  5. photo: Toxic lead paint peels from a window frame on a rowhouse in Baltimore, Maryland.
    Environment

    The Unequal Burden of Urban Lead

    Decades after federal regulations banned the use of the deadly metal in paint, gasoline, and plumbing, the effects of lead continue to be felt across America’s cities.

×