People in different ethnic groups do not have the same average longevity at birth. For example, African Americans’ average longevity at birth is roughly 6.5 years lower for men and about 5 years lower for women than it is for European Americans (National Center for Health Statistics, 2008a). Why do such large differences exist? The most important reasons are the substantial differences in most envi­ronmental variables between European Americans and other ethnic groups.

In the United States, these differences can be dra­matic. For example, although African Americans’ average life expectancy at birth is about 6 years less for men and about 4 years less for women than it is for European Americans, by age 65 this gap has narrowed to about 2 and 1.5 years, respec­tively, for men and women. By age 85, African Americans tend to outlive European Americans. Why the shift over time? Perhaps because of their lower access to good-quality health care in general, those African Americans who live to age 85 tend to be in better health on average than their European American counterparts. But this is just a guess. Latinos have higher average life expectancies than European Americans at all ages despite having, on average, less access to health care (National Center for Health Statistics, 2008a).