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  Chapter One:

  Size and Growth Rate
  Life Expectancy
  Age Structure
  Population Drift
  Urban, Rural, Suburban
  Foreign Born
  Large Cities



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Life Expectancy

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The life expectancy of Americans increased dramatically, first for infants and children, then for adults.
Life expectancy at birth increased by twenty-six years for males and twenty-nine years for females during the century (see upper chart). Driven principally by a decrease in infant (up to age one) mortality, most of this improvement occurred by 1950 (see page 134). 

At midcentury, many experts believed that any gains in extending the lives of mature adults would come very slowly. This did not turn out to be the case. Life expectancy increased at age sixty, age seventy, and all intermediate ages (see page 136). In 1950, a sixty-year-old white female could expect to live to be seventy-nine years old. Her counterpart in 1996 could expect to live to be eighty-three years old—a four-year increase in expected life length (see lower chart). 

The female advantage in life expectancy at birth increased throughout the century. The difference ranged from about three years in 1900 to nearly six years in 1996. The relative increase was even greater at later ages. This widening margin was often attributed to safer and less frequent childbearing, but that does not explain the existence of this gender gap to begin with. No one fully understands why women are more durable than men, but the fact is unmistakable. 

These trends in life expectancy are based on data for white Americans. The life expectancy at birth for nonwhite Americans was thirty-three years in 1900— fifteen years lower than the life expectancy of forty-eight years for whites. This gap declined throughout the century, narrowing to seven years by 1996.

Chapter 1 chart 2

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series B 116–117 and B 122–123; SA 1999, table 129. For the racial difference in life expectancy, see SA 1999, table 1421.


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