The Hispanic Paradox

When we discuss life expectancy, inevitably someone tries to explain away our sup-optimal performance by pointing to our demographics, specifically with respect to race.  “We’re more heterogeneous.”  “Our racial mix is different.”  Or, “we have more immigrants.”

Inherent in these kind of statements are all kinds of biases.  First, why should our mix of people be worse than almost any of the more homogeneous groups that make up that mix (if such homogeneous groups exist)?  Shouldn’t our life expectancy be a weighted average of the individual life expectancies (if you believe that explanation).  Moreover, sometimes these arguments also express a hidden bias that minorities (by which I mean groups that are in smaller percentages) must be bringing us down.  These biases sometimes seem especially true towards immigrants.

I tend to dismiss many such explanations unless evidence or data exist to back them up.  This is why:

US Hispanics can expect to outlive whites by more than two years and blacks by more than seven, government researchers say in a startling report that is the first to calculate Hispanic life expectancy in this country.

The report released yesterday is the strongest evidence yet of what some specialists call the “Hispanic paradox’’ — longevity for a population with a large share of poor, undereducated members. A leading theory is that Hispanics who manage to immigrate to the United States are among the healthiest from their countries.

A Hispanic born in 2006 could expect to live about 80 years and seven months, the government estimates. Life expectancy for a white is about 78, and for a black, just shy of 73 years.

Here is the full report.

So it turns out that since our percentage of Hispanics in the US has been increasing, our collective life expectancy should be going up.  That doesn’t seem to be happening compared to other countries.

My larger point, however, is that whenever we are presented with data, inevitably someone comes up with an explanation as to why it’s wrong.  We find someone to blame.  And, with no evidence to support that explanation, many people start repeating it as if it’s truth.  It gets so bad that when confronted with new data that shows that explanation to be utterly and completely wrong, rather than reflect on our prior behavior, someone will just come up with a new and unproven explanation. How quickly do you think people will now start blaming other minority groups for our bad performance?

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