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Where you live in America determines when you’ll die
Two maps show two very different takes on the huge discrepancies in U.S. life expectancy
- These maps show strong links between location and life expectancy.
- Hawaiians live longest, Mississippians die earliest.
- County-level ranking shows short-life hotspots in Kentucky, long-life ones in Colorado.
High in Hawaii...
Hawaii (pictured: Diamond Head on Honolulu) is the state with the longest average life expectancy at birth.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons / Howcheng, CC BY S.A 2.0
Tell me where you live, and I'll tell you how long you've got left. Fortunately, it's not quite that simple; but as these maps suggest, there is a strong link between location and average life expectancy.
Americans born in 2015 can expect to live to the age of 78.8 years. That's one-tenth of a year less than in 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported, and the first time U.S. life expectancy declined since 1993.
The CDC cited the rise of preventable deaths — notably traffic accidents (+6%) and "accidental poisonings" (+13%) as the main causes for the drop in longevity. The latter category consists almost entirely (97 percent) of alcohol and drug overdoses, with the opioid epidemic a major contributor to the increase.
... low in Mississippi
After Hawaiians, Californians and Minnesotans live the longest. Mississippi scores worst, followed by Alabama and Louisiana. Image source: Titlemax
As these maps show, the national average tells only a small part of the story. The first one breaks down the national result in averages per state. It shows both huge disparities and regional similarities.
- Hawaii is the best-performing state. Newborns can expect to reach the ripe old age of 81.15 years. That puts the Aloha State on a par with Belgium (which according to the World Health Organisation had a life expectancy at birth of 81.1 years in 2015) and the U.K. (81.2 years) — countries placing 21st and 20th in the WHO world ranking.
- There's a gap of more than six years with Mississippi, the state with the lowest life expectancy in the Union: 74.91 years. That puts Mississippians on a par with Nicaraguans (74.8 years; 73rd in the WHO ranking) and the Lebanese (74.9 years; 70th).
- Living in the South is bad for your health: the 10 states with the lowest life expectancy form a single bloc centred on the southeast of the US.
- Mississippi (74.91 years)
- Alabama (75.65 years)
- Louisiana (75.82 years)
- West Virginia (76.03 years)
- Oklahoma (76.08 years)
- Arkansas (76.18 years)
- Kentucky (76.26 years)
- Tennessee (76.33 years)
- South Carolina (76.89 years)
- Georgia (77.38 years)
There's a similar bloc in the northeast, but on the other end of the scale: here, six of the 10 best-performing states congregate.
- Hawaii (81.15 years)
- California (80.92 years)
- Minnesota (80.90 years)
- Connecticut (80.56 years)
- Massachusetts (80.41 years)
- New York (80.36 years)
- Vermont (80.24 years)
- Colorado (80.21 years)
- New Hampshire (80.15 years)
- New Jersey (80.04 years)
In some counties, longevity is a two decades' difference
The difference in life expectancy between the top and bottom counties is a full two decades. Image source: Titlemax
By focusing on counties rather than states, the second map throws new light on the subject. The top 20 and bottom 20 counties cluster in a very different pattern.
For one, Hawaii, the best performer at state level, has no county-level representatives. Two: Mississippi, the worst-performing state, has only three of the 20 worst-performing counties. Yet half of the bottom-20 counties can be found in two other states.
- No less than six of the bottom-20 counties are in Kentucky, in a zone of low life expectancy adjoining West Virginia, home to two more worst-performing counties.
- Four are in South Dakota, including Oglala Lakota County, the county with the lowest life expectancy in the country, at just 66.81 years. That's on a par with Senegal (128th on the WHO ranking). This despite the fact that overall, South Dakota is doing pretty well (79.57 years on average).
Poverty and longevity
Allen, South Dakota — the poorest town in the United States. Image source: Wikimedia Commons / Ss114, CC BY-SA 3.0
The counties in the Dakotas with low life expectancy are contiguous with Native-American reservations, which suffer from extreme levels of poverty and addiction. Oglala Lakota County (Shannon County until it was renamed in 2015) is contained entirely within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Also in that reservation (but in neighbouring Bennett County) is the town of Allen, the poorest place in the United States. As of the 2000 census, more than 95 percent of its 419 inhabitants lived below the poverty line. Allen is located near North America's continental pole of inaccessibility (at 43°21'36" N, 101°58'12" W): 1024 miles (1650 km) from the nearest coastline.
Colorado contains the top-three counties (highest life expectancy: Summit County, 88.83 years), and three more from the top 20. One theory explaining Colorado's high scores is that the state is a popular destination for people who love the outdoors; so it's not that living in Colorado makes you live longer per se, it's that people with healthier lifestyles move to Colorado.
There are two smaller long-life clusters: in the Bay Area and in northern Virginia, each with three counties in the top 20.
Long live Colorado
Downtown Breckenridge in Summit County, Colorado, the longest-living county in the country. Image source: Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress
Three states have counties in both categories.
- The average Alaskan in the Kusilvak Census Area never makes it to their 71st birthday. A bit further south, in either the Aleutians East Borough or the Aleutians West Census Area, they would get to blow out 83 candles before expiring.
- The average inhabitant of Billings County, North Dakota makes it just past their 84th birthday. That's the fourth-best score in the country. Nearby Sioux County has the country's fourth-worst score: 68.59 years.
- Residents of Union Country only get to be 67.57 years, on average, while their fellow Floridians in Collier County make it to 83.43 years — a difference of more than a decade and a half.
Not since the Spanish Flu
In this photo, Seattle policemen are "armed" against the Spanish Flu (December 1918). Image source: U.S. National Archives
The national average quoted on the first map dates from 2015. More recent CDC data shows the decline continued in 2016 (to 78.7 years) and 2017 (to 78.6 years). The only other three-year drop in life expectancy registered in CDC records (which go back to 1900) dates from the second half of the 1910s, when the World War and the Spanish Flu caused life expectancy to drop from 54.5 years in 1915 to just 39.1 years in 1919 — the lowest average life expectancy on record.
The figures also show separate results for race and gender, and huge disparities between them. Whites do better than blacks, and women outlive men.
- White women reached an average life expectancy of more than 50 years in 1901, 60 years in 1921, 70 years in 1946 and 80 years in 1998. White men hit 50 in 1902, 60 in 1921 and 70 in 1977.
- The average life expectancy of black women exceeded 50 only in 1921. It reached 60 in 1946 and 70 in 1974. Black males averaged 50 years or more in 1921, 60 years in 1954 and 70 only from 2007.
Update 30 March: as reader Elizabeth Batson points out, there is a strong correlation between this map and one she recently saw on the CDC website on the prevalence of adult obesity, "especially on the high fat/short life side."
Strange Maps #968
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.