Your ZIP Code Determines Your Life Expectancy, But Not in These 7 Places

What sets these outliers apart?
by | November 2018
Cemetery at dusk.
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Just how long many Americans will live is largely a reflection of where they were born.

For the first time, neighborhood-level life expectancy data covering most of the country were published in September, revealing large disparities. The joint effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation utilized death records reported by 48 states.

Life expectancies generally mirror demographics. Babies born into neighborhoods with more white residents, or those with high incomes and college-educated populations, tend to live longer. Communities with poor access to food and health care have low life expectancies. Major gaps are further present across neighborhoods in close proximity within the same cities. As a response, places such as Alameda County, Calif., and Kansas City, Mo., have launched initiatives aimed at advancing health equity.

We’ve identified several outlier neighborhoods, represented as Census tracts, from the data. Some have extremely high or low estimated life expectancies. In other neighborhoods, the normal assumptions about race, poverty and other demographic characteristics as they relate to health do not seem to apply.

 

Monterey Park, Calif., Census Tract 4817.11 

While neighborhoods with exceptionally high life expectancy are predominantly wealthy, there are notable exceptions scattered throughout the country. One that stands out is in the northern part of Monterey Park, a small Los Angeles suburb with some of the highest concentrations of Chinese Americans of any U.S. city. Despite the tract’s median income of only $40,000 and high poverty, those born there were projected to live an estimated average of 93 years (+/-7). The neighborhood is close to a senior center, medical center and park. Several other Asian communities had similarly high estimates. Another demographically similar neighborhood with about the same life expectancy is a section of New York City’s Chinatown.

 

Shelby County, Ill., Census Tract 9595

Educational attainment is one of the strongest predictors of a neighborhood’s life expectancy. But select areas with average or below-average levels of education still have exceptionally high estimated longevity. One is an area of rural Shelby County, Ill., made up of several small villages and farming communities. Census estimates suggest more than half the population has no education beyond high school, yet its life expectancy is nearly 92 years (+/-7).

 

Chatham County, N.C., Census Tract 201.04

Most neighborhoods with the highest life expectancies tend to be communities of affluent residents with high levels of education. The tract with the nation’s highest estimated life expectancy is found in Chatham County. Its average life expectancy falls between 90 and 104 years, when the margin of error is considered. The area is a wealthy enclave with two large retirement communities: Fearrington Village and The Preserve at Jordan Lake.

 

Stilwell, Okla., Census Tract 3769

At just 56 years (+/-2), Stilwell’s estimated life expectancy is the lowest of any Census tract in the nation. The community, traditionally dependent on agriculture and ranching, is home to a large contingent of Native Americans, and about half of all children there live in poverty.

 

The Bronx, N.Y., Census Tract 396

Predominantly black communities typically have low life expectancies, according to the CDC. This isn’t true of a few African-American neighborhoods in New York, though, such as a tract in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx. About 78 percent of its residents are black, and more than a quarter live in poverty. However, the neighborhood’s estimated life expectancy is 86 years (+/-8).

 

Pascoag, R.I., Census Tract 129

By most measures, Pascoag is a typical lower middle-class to middle-class community. An unincorporated village northwest of Providence, it has relatively high numbers of children living in poverty, along with education levels and household incomes somewhat below national averages. Yet it’s an outlier in that its estimated life expectancy was about 90 years (+/-7).

 

Dallas

Dallas offers an example of the vast differences in life expectancy that can be found in close proximity. Six predominantly African- American tracts making up an area of southeast Dallas recorded life expectancies between 65 and 69 years. For mostly white neighborhoods on the other side of an interstate highway a few miles to the north, the numbers were in the low to mid-80s.

 

About the data

Estimates represent average life expectancy at birth for 2010-2015. (See methodology) Data is subject to high margins of error and was not reported for Maine and Wisconsin. Demographic data shown are 2012-2016 American Community Survey estimates. Many other tracts not illustrated where life expectancy estimates most notably don't reflect typical demographic characteristics contain colleges or correctional facilities.