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Research Letter
June 6, 2012

Trends in the Black-White Life Expectancy Gap, 2003-2008

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (sam.harper@mcgill.ca).

JAMA. 2012;307(21):2257-2259. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.5059

To the Editor: Understanding the causes of black-white differences in mortality has important consequences for interventions to reduce health inequalities in the United States. A previous report found a nearly 2-year decline in the black-white life expectancy gap among men and a 1-year decline among women between 1993 and 2003.1 We investigated whether these changes have continued in recent years.

Similar to a previous study,1 we abstracted data on deaths and population from the US National Vital Statistics System by age and cause of death for non-Hispanic blacks and whites in 2003 and 2008. We used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's WONDER software2 and abridged life table methods to estimate life expectancy at birth, and used the method by Arriaga3 for decomposing differences in life expectancy between populations by age and cause of death. We selected International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision codes to capture leading causes of death among sex and race groups, and calculated age-adjusted death rates using the US 2000 standard million population. The US mortality data are not subject to sampling error.4 Analyses were conducted using Stata software version 12 (StataCorp). This study used deidentified data and did not require ethics review.