Life Expectancy By State 1990-2019

I’m making a panel of historical life expectancy data by state available here:

Life Expectancy By State 1990-2019

It covers the years 1990 to 2019 for every US state, and has life expectancy at birth, age 25, and age 65. It includes breakdowns by sex and by race and ethnicity, though the race and ethnicity breakdowns aren’t available for every state and year.

This is one of those things that you’d think would be easy to find elsewhere, but isn’t. The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics publishes state life expectancy data, but only makes it easily available back to 2018. The United States Mortality DataBase has state life expectancy data back to 1959, but makes it quite hard to use: it requires creating an account, uses opaque variable names, and puts the data for each state into a different spreadsheet, requiring users who want a state panel to merge 50 sheets. It also bans re-sharing the data, which is why the dataset I present here is based on IHME’s data instead.

The IHME data is much more user-friendly than the CDC or USMDB, but still has major issues. By including lots of extraneous information and arranging the data in an odd way, it has over 600,000 rows of data; covering 50 states over 30 years should only take about 1,500 rows, which is what I’ve cleaned and rearranged it to. IHME also never actually gives the most basic variable: life expectancy at birth by state. They only ever give separate life expectancies for men and women. I created overall life expectancy by state by averaging life expectancy for men and women. This gives people any easy number to use, but a simple average is not the ideal way to do this, since state populations aren’t exactly 50/50, particularly for 65 year olds. If you’re doing serious work on 65yo life expectancy you probably want to find a better way to do this, or just use the separate male/female variables. You might also consider sticking with the original IHME data (if its important to have population and all cause mortality by age, which I deleted as extraneous) or the United States Mortality DataBase (if you want pre-1990 data).

Overall though, my state life expectancy panel should provide a quick and easy option that works well for most people.

Here’s an example of what can be done with the data:

If states are on the red line, their life expectancy didn’t change from 1990 to 2019. If a state were below the red line, it would mean their life expectancy fell, which done did (some state names spill over the line, but the true data point is at the start of the name). The higher above the line a state is, the more the life expectancy increased from 1990 to 2019. So Oklahoma, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky and North Dakota barely improved, gaining less than 1.5 years. On the other extreme Alaska, California, New York improved by more than 5 years; the biggest improvement was in DC, which gained a whopping 9.1 years of life expectancy over 30 years. My initial thought was that this was mainly driven by the changing racial composition of DC, but in fact it appears that the gains were broad based: black life expectancy rose from 65 to 72, while white life expectancy rose from 77 to 87.

You can find other improved datasets on my data page, and once again this life expectancy data is here: Life Expectancy By State 1990-2019

2 thoughts on “Life Expectancy By State 1990-2019

  1. StickershockTrooper March 17, 2023 / 3:13 pm

    I’m guessing that this is simply sampling populations at certain times, rather than following a certain cohort? I wonder what the effect of emigration has in all of this (Influx of younger, therefore healthier immigrants in the last 30 years would certainly skew things?)


    • James Bailey March 23, 2023 / 2:20 pm

      Yes its just sampling at different times. Probably the changing population mix is a big part of this, even if its not a simple race/gentrification story like I first guessed.


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