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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: Black American Life Expectancy Decreasing Disproportionately Due to Firearms

In 2016, the last year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides numbers, 35,353 people died from gun injuries, the majority of them suicides. In other words, out of every 100,000 people living in the US that year, 12 were killed by a gun, compared to 11 in 2015 and 10 in 2014.

“But mortality rates don’t show you how much of your life is lost,” says Dr. Bindu Kalesan, assistant professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health. “Who is dying young, and who is dying old?”

The answer, she and her colleagues found, is that those who are killed by guns when they are young are much more often Black, while their White counterparts are dying older.

Their study, published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, found a 2.48-year overall decrease in life expectancy nationally from 2000 to 2016. (Health gains in other areas have hidden this loss: U.S. life expectancy decreased for the first time in half a century in 2015, with a reduction of 0.01 years, followed by the loss of another 0.01 years every year since.)

When they looked at these lost years by race, they found that White Americans lost 2.23 years, while African Americans lost 4.14.

This comes down to when and how these deaths are most likely to occur: African Americans are most likely to be shot and killed by someone else when they were around 20 years old, the study found. “Their lives are done with right away,” Dr. Kalesan says, and the many decades that they might otherwise have lived are subtracted from the life expectancy of African Americans.

In contrast, White Americans who die from a firearm are most likely to do so in suicide and at an older age. These deaths are tragic and should be prevented, she says, but they have a smaller effect on life expectancy because they occur closer to what would otherwise be the end of an individual’s life.

Read more about this study.