Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Surprisingly Long Life of Hispanics

For the first time ever, the National Center for Health Statistics has included life expectancy estimates for Hispanics in its annual mortality report (Deaths: Final Data for 2008). This inclusion might not be all that noteworthy except for the surprising fact that Hispanics have a higher than average (78.1 years is average) life expectancy--higher, in fact, than any other race or Hispanic origin group. Here are the 2008 estimates of life expectancy at birth (in years):

Hispanics: 81.0
Non-Hispanic whites: 78.4
Non-Hispanic blacks: 73.7

Hispanics males (78.4) and females (83.3) have a longer life expectancy than any other males or females, and at every age Hispanics can expect to live more years than non-Hispanic whites or blacks. At age 65, for example, Hispanics have another 20.7 years of life, on average, versus 18.8 years for non-Hispanic whites and 17.3 years for non-Hispanic blacks.

Demo Memo reported on the Hispanic advantage last year when the NCHS published the first official analysis, based on 2006 death rates (see post). The 2008 data, released yesterday, confirm the finding. The experts cannot explain the numbers, since the relatively low socioeconomic status of Hispanics should result in greater mortality and lower life expectancy. Some of the theories posited to explain the higher life expectancy of Hispanics are: the underreporting of Hispanic deaths, the "healthy migrant effect"--in which only the healthiest Hispanics migrate to the United States, and the "salmon bias effect"--in which Hispanics return to their country of origin to die.

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