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Volume 2016, Article ID 8290435, 12 pages
Research Article

Inequalities in US Life Expectancy by Area Unemployment Level, 1990–2010

1US Department of Health and Human Services, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857, USA
2Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Public Health, Omaha, NE 68198-4365, USA

Received 7 December 2015; Accepted 29 February 2016

Academic Editor: Margaret Henry

Copyright © 2016 Gopal K. Singh and Mohammad Siahpush. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This study examined the association between unemployment and life expectancy in the United States during 1990–2010. Census-based unemployment rates were linked to US county-level mortality data. Life expectancies were calculated by age, sex, race, and unemployment level during 1990–2010. Differences in life expectancy were decomposed by age and cause of death. Life expectancy was consistently lower in areas with higher unemployment rates. In 2006–2010, those in areas with high unemployment rates (≥9%) had a life expectancy of 76.9 years, compared with 80.7 years for those in areas with low unemployment rates (<3%). The association between unemployment and life expectancy was stronger for men than for women. Life expectancy ranged from 69.9 years among black men in high unemployment areas to 90.0 years among Asian/Pacific Islander women in low unemployment areas. Disparities persisted over time. In 1990–1992, life expectancy was 4.7 years shorter in high unemployment than in low unemployment areas. In 2006–2010, the life expectancy difference between the lowest and highest unemployment areas decreased to 3.8 years. Heart disease, cancer, homicide, unintentional injuries, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and liver cirrhosis contributed most to the lower life expectancy in high unemployment areas. High unemployment areas recorded larger gains in life expectancy than low unemployment areas, contributing to the narrowing gap during 1990–2010.