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Pinpointing the sources of the Asian mortality advantage in the USA


Background Asian–Americans outlive whites by an average of nearly 8 years. By determining the sources of the Asian mortality advantage, we can pinpoint where there is the greatest potential for raising the life expectancy of whites and other groups in the USA.

Methods Our analyses include all Asian and white deaths in the USA between 2006 and 2010, from the Center for Disease Control. Using the International Classification of Diseases (V.10), we code causes of deaths into 19 categories, based on the most common causes as well as causes particularly relevant to racial differences. We then create life tables and apply a newly-developed demographic method to determine whether Asians have longer life expectancy because they are less likely than whites to die of causes of death that strike at younger ages, or because they tend to outlive whites regardless of cause of death.

Results Nearly 90% of the Asian–white life expectancy gap is attributable to the fact that Asians tend to outlive whites regardless of the cause of death. The causes that contribute the most to the gap are heart disease (24%) and cancers (18%). Men contribute somewhat more to the gap than women do (55% vs 45%), primarily because Asian–white differences in mortality are greater among men than among women with respect to suicide, traffic accidents and accidental poisoning.

Conclusions For almost all causes of death, Asian victims tend to be older than white victims. The greatest potential for raising the life expectancy of whites to that of Asians, then, resides in efforts that effectively increase whites’ average age at death for the most common causes of death.


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