• 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?

    • http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db09.htm

      Non-hispanic blacks, IN FACT, do worsen the infant mortality rate for the US. It’s almost double the U.S. average.

      “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.”

    • Excellent point, Aaron. And of course, when you take into account the relative amounts paid for services, America’s health care record is, honestly, humiliating.
      Recall, we’re paying 50% to 100% more for services than any other country. Yet when one points to disappointing results, excuses emerge:
      – Too many immigrants
      – We’re too fat
      – We have higher murder rates.

    • The most interesting thing to me in the above is that the people with the most access to health care do NOT live longer and healthier lives!

      (Half jokingly) Maybe that is the secret to the success of socialized medicine, maybe it reduces access (end half joking)!

      BTW I think that I liked to the study you quote in a comment on an earlier post. (See also the Eight Americas study and the rand health insurance study). Health care statistics are exceedingly difficult to interpret.

      Another interesting point is that during the Saskatchewan doctor’s strike the death rate fell.

      Also people in Utah and ND get less health care than NYers and are healthier and live longer.

      It is weird! Robin Hanson may be right!

      That might be a record three “!” in one comment.

    • BTW it is not hard to imagine a way that optimism in health care could cause more access to push beyond the optimal amount of care to the point where more care kills, especially where there is a low rate of direct payment.

      I have heard that studies show that most everyone who is not depressed is excessively optimistic. Perhaps I should look for a depressed doctor.

    • On final point on this statistic (and more so the fact that Hispanics have lower infant mortality) is that bring into doubt a lot of data.