Dropping Life Expectancies for Rural Women
As advances in medical technology improve for women, we assume life expectancies will be longer than past generations. But according to a Harvard School of Public Health study – The Reversal of Fortunes: Trends in County Mortality and Cross-County Mortality Disparities in the United States, in nearly 1,000 mostly rural counties, life expectancies for women are now lower than or essentially the same as in the early 1980s. That means that life expectancies for women in nearly one-third of American counties did not increase for the first time since 1918.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report Growing Disparities in Life Expectancy, finds those with lower incomes and less education experiencing declining or stagnant life expectancies. Most of the rural counties experiencing decreases in life expectancy from 1983 to 1999 are concentrated in the South, the Southern Plains, and Appalachia. But counties not improving in life expectancy during the same time period are scattered throughout the nation, including large portions of the Midwest and Great Plains. By comparison, less than two dozen rural counties did not improve female life expectancies from 1961 to 1983. Both studies point to a lack of access to health care services, the increase in the uninsured and increasing income gaps as root causes that may make this a long-term issue for many portions of the American population. These are major public policy challenges facing rural people and rural places, and must be addressed by policy makers at all levels.