Racial Disparities in Life Expectancy: How Much Can the Standard SES Variables Account for?
This paper quantities the power of socioeconomic and demographic characteristics to account for black-white disparities in life expectancy in the US. While many studies have investigated the linkages between race, SES, and mortality, previous studies have almost universally reported results in terms of coefficients and odds ratios from hazard models. This paper attempts to illuminate how racial differences in mortality hazards aggregate into a net effect on the life course by reporting effects on life expectancies. The focus on life expectancy is facilitated by a reweighting technique, well-established in labor economics but novel in this context, that creates counterfactual estimates of black life expectancy in which income, education, employment and occupation, and other theoretically relevant characteristics among blacks are made to match the characteristics of whites. Among males, 80% of the black-white gap in life expectancy at age one can be accounted for by differences in socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. Among females, 70% percent of the gap is accounted for. Labor force participation, occupation, and, among women only, marital status have almost no power to explain the black-white disparity in life expectancy once precise measures for income and education are controlled for.
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