It’s Better To Be Old in America

Despite a Think Progress report that uses a data bait and switch in order to make good news look bad, Think Progress reports on about a big reduction in deaths from heart disease and stroke in the U.S. and the resulting increase in life expectancy of Americans over 65:

 According to a government report about the well-being of older Americans, today’s 65-year-olds can expect to live longer — to age 85, compared to 79 in 1980 — and healthier than previous generations. Deaths from heart disease and stroke have dropped almost 50 percent, which has helped to increase the average life expectancy for Americans.

And then strives to make the good news look bad:

…a dozen developed nations had longer life expectancies than America’s. Even though the U.S. and Japan had about equal life expectancies 30 years ago, Japanese citizens live about four years longer — to 89 — on average than Americans.

What Think Progress doesn’t mention is that demographic studies suggest that the shorter U.S. life-expectancy probably results from higher mortality in those under age 65. Higher mortality under age 65 is affected by many factors, including accident rates, homicide rates among the inner city poor, data artifacts like those that produce the spuriously high U.S. infant mortality rankings, differences in deleterious personal behaviors like smoking, overweight, or alcoholism, and the quality and availability of medical care.

The reduction in deaths from heart disease and stroke may well be a result of better U.S. medical care. After comparing treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease in the U.S. with that in other OECD countries, Preston and Ho (2009) concluded that lower U.S. life-expectancy “is not likely to be a result of a poorly functioning health care system.”

In many developed countries more than half of women and a third of men live to age 80. According to Manton and Vaupel (1995), eighty-year-old U.S. women could expect to live another 9.1 years. In Japan, life-expectancy at 80 was 8.5 years, in Sweden 8.3 years, in France 8.6 years, and in England 8.1 years. Similar results held for men. They speculate that elderly patients in the U.S. “may receive more effective medical care than elderly patients in Japan or Europe” where “cost control produces de facto rationing of health care for the elderly” and copayments, shortages of long-term care and rehabilitation facilities “adversely affect the health of elderly Japanese,” and Danes endure “6-to-12 months waits for cataract and hip surgery.”

Comments (5)

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  1. Nichole says:

    What about the factors of technology and family genetics ?

  2. Kyle says:

    Yet another example of people applying imperfect models to achieve political ends. It has to be exhausting distorting so much data.

  3. August says:

    While the Manton and Vaupel data is a somewhat dated their method is superior to average life expectancy that Think Progress uses.

    And as you point out, it is important to control for fatal injuries. When you do we have the best national life expectancy!

  4. Larry Pennington says:

    So If I make it to 80, I’ll have a good shot of making it to 90? Better stay in the US if I want to live long.

  5. Bob Hertz says:

    The evidence is clear that the USA does well for those over 65.

    I invite any of us who are, let’s say, 50 years old or more to close our eyes and try to re-create what was the state of health of their extended family in the 1950’s.

    Personally, I can remember heart attack deaths for the men, diabetes for both men and women, older women staying home with broken hips, etc etc.

    Today I have more aunts and uncles alive over age 85 than I used to have aunts and uncles. Some of them still play tennis.

    This is basically an accomplishment of federal spending. Private health industries have showed up eagerly to catch the federal spigots, but they have not initiated or maintained Medicare.

    Like all versions of socialism, though, there is the danger of running out of other people’s money.
    The generation of workers who have to pay for Medicare is not doing well financially, for many reasons, and the health of the elderly will probably slide back in the years to come.