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Growth of U.S. Population, Growth through Natural Increase: Deaths

Sweden men, public sanitation, American babies, Great differences, mental depression

bFertility rates are not the only factor influencing population growth. The population also grows when people are healthier and therefore live longer. Just as the birthrate has been steadily declining in the United States, so, too, has the death rate.

American babies are healthier than ever before in this country’s history and 99.3 percent will survive to their first birthday. Although the records from a century ago are incomplete, they indicate that only 84 percent of infants survived their first year. And a century before that, about 80 percent of infants may have lived to their first birthday. Most of the improvement in infant health has come in the 20th century and is due to improved childcare, better medical care for mothers and children, better sanitation, and the development of antibiotics.

Children born in 2002 can expect to reach age 74.5 if they are male and age 80.2 if they are female. Around the turn of the 20th century, the average life expectancy for women was 48, and for men it was 46. A century earlier, when childbirth was more dangerous, women had the lower life expectancy, around 35, compared with 37 for men.

Americans are living longer because medical care and public sanitation have improved substantially. However, infant survival and life expectancies are lower in the United States than in other developed countries because of disparities in wealth, education, and access to health care. In Japan in 2002, men could expect to live to age 77.7 and women to 84.3; in Sweden men could expect to live to age 77.2 and women to 82.6. In western Europe, the infant mortality rate is about 5 deaths per 1,000 births; in Japan it is 3.8; in the United States it is 6.7.

In the American population, wealthier people live longer, healthier lives than do poorer people. Great differences between rich and poor can produce poor health for the poorest citizens. From the 1920s to the early 1970s, America experienced an expansion of the middle class. Since then, the rich have nearly doubled their share of the country’s wealth. Hopelessness and rage can lead to substance abuse, violence, and mental depression, which can negatively affect health and longevity. More direct effects of poverty that shorten life spans for the poorest populations include malnutrition, exposure to extremes of heat and cold, and lack of medical attention.

More cohesive communities with a more equitable distribution of income and goods, even if relatively poor, tend to have better overall health than those with great disparities in wealth. For example, in the early 1990s the District of Columbia, where there are great disparities between the wealthy neighborhoods and the majority of poor neighborhoods, had an overall life expectancy of 62 for men and 74 for women. In Kansas, where the median household income was below that of Washington, D.C., but where the social differences are less sharply defined, the life expectancy was 73 for men and 80 for women.

Life expectancies also differ substantially by ethnicity and race. In 1999, whites, who tend to be wealthier, had a life expectancy of 77.3, and blacks, who tend to have less wealth, had a life expectancy of 71.4. This is, however, a smaller gap than once existed.

As noted earlier, women have a longer life expectancy than men. This is because women have a somewhat stronger immune system and suffer less from stress-related illnesses and from alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence. Because of the longer female life span, the U.S. population had more women than men in 2002—143.3 million women compared to 137.3 million men. Up to age 30, however, men outnumbered women in the United States, for two reasons: slightly more males are born than females, and slightly more young men immigrate into the United States than women.

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