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The life expectancy of the average American male increased 2.1 years from 1999 to 2009, to just over 76 years of age.
But that increase was matched in only 382 rural and exurban counties, or 15 percent of all rural and exurban counties in the nation.
The map above shows the change in male life expectancy in rural and exurban counties between 1999 and 2009. In the dark green counties, male longevity increased 2.1 years (the national average) or more during that period.
Click on the map to see a larger version.
In the light green counties, life expectancy increased, but at less than the national average.
In the brown counties, male longevity was either stagnant or decreased. There were 158 rural or exurban counties where men are living shorter lives now than they were a decade earlier.
(Exurban counties are counties in metropolitan areas, but where half the population lives in a rural setting. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington compiled this data.)
Those counties where men’s lives are growing shorter in rural America are clustered largely in Appalachia, the South and in southern Oklahoma.
The map shows that men living in rural America are simply not keeping up with the health advances in the rest of the country. In more than 8 out of ten rural counties, advances in male longevity failed to match the increase in the nation as a whole.
The chart below shows the 50 rural or exurban counties that had the largest absolute decline in lifespan among men. You can see that the counties with the biggest declines are largely in coal producing counties in Appalachia. Twenty-nine of these 50 counties were in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia. Six were in Oklahoma and four were in Georgia.
Even before 1999, men in these counties lived shorter lives than the national average of 76.2 years. In the last decade, however, in these counties men’s already-short lives grew shorter.
The chart below shows the 50 (and ties) rural and exurban counties where male longevity increased the most between 1999 and 2009.
Most of these counties already had a long-lived male population, but some of these counties with above average gains were in places where men lived fewer years than the national average. Men in Clarke County, Alabama, for example, gained 3.4 years in the last decade, although they still live, on average, only 72.9 years, more than three year less than the national average.
There are a number of counties near the Texas/Mexico border with large gains added to male life expectancy that fell below the national. Zavala County is on this list and the map above shows a cluster of counties in South Texas with higher than average gains in life expectancy.