Scientists are baffled by this shocking trend.
Since these women are more likely to be unemployed or working low-wage jobs, researchers believe the new health care law may combat this backwards slide, but point out that it might not solve the underlying problem.
‘Health care is far from the whole story,’ David Kindig, co-author of one of the studies, told the Atlantic. ‘More and more people are beginning to realize that the non-health-care factors are at least as important.’
Backwards: Life expectancy rates among women have been worsening in about half of all U.S. counties.
Above, red signifies the counties where the life expectancy rate for women is declining.
Kindig was the co-author of a University of Wisconsin study published in March which reported that for the last two decades, the mortality rate for women had increased in half of U.S. counties, while the male mortality rate only increased in 3 per cent.
Kindig said he was so shocked by it’s outcome, that he and his research partner went back and did the numbers again just to double check.
But their initial calculations were right and soon confirmed by a study by the University of Washington which found that female life expectancy either stagnated or declined in 45 per cent of U.S. counties between 1985 and 2010.
The studies agreed that women were living shorter lives, but researchers still don’t know what to blame.
‘Clearly something is going on,’ Kindig told the Atlantic. ‘It could be cultural, political, or environmental, but the truth is we don’t really know the answer.’
There is a noticeable connection between where women live and how long they live. Kindig discovered this by coloring each county on a map according to whether female life expectancy had substantial improvement, minimal improvement or was worsening (colored red).
The most troubled area for women seems to be in the Southeast, where there is the highest density of red – especially in the states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee.
The red travels up to the Midwest states of Nebraska and North Dakota before tapering out in the Pacific Northwest. The Northeast and Southwest are the areas with the least amount of red.
Other researchers have pointed out the role that education plays in female mortality rates.
According to a Health Affairs study published in August 2012, life expectancy among white high-school dropouts has taken a dive in the last 18 years and now these women are expected to die five years earlier than the previous generation.
The only similar event in human life expectancy happened right after the fall of the Soviet Union among Russian men, which has since been attributed to alcohol consumption and a spike in accidental death rates.
Poor, uneducated women may well be facing similar hardships after the Recession as post-Soviet men. Only one third of female high-school dropouts are employed, and working low income jobs or being unemployed all together can cause stress which manifests itself in smoking or obesity.
‘Life is different for women without a high-school degree than it was a few decades ago, and in most cases it’s a lot worse,’ said demographer Jennifer Karas Montez. ‘It’s really just a perfect storm.’