Life Expectancy in the US
what's going on here?

 T
here is something amiss in the way life expectancy is calculated ... or ... I'm missing something significant. I hope I'm the one who's wrong ... but ...

Check it out

Here's a link listing the gradual rise in life expectancy in the United States. It shows that in 1950 the life expectancy of an American was 68.2 years and in 2002 it had got up to 77.3 years.

They mean here ... the arithmetic mean ... which is computed by adding up all the ages at death and dividing by the number of people. You get the average age at death. In actuality, extrapolations are made because the actual life expectancy refers to people who were born in that particular year ... while in the intervening years, improvements in health care, etc. have resulted in a modification of the life expectancy for the year it was originally given. So, if the life expectancy in 1950 was 68.2, the actual lifespan of those people has increased somewhat and they're living somewhat longer lives.

So to derive the actual life expectancy for 1950, you'd have to wait for all those people to die and then add 'em up.

The Big Trouble is ...

In 2002, my brother died at age 54 and this year my mother-in-law died at age 84 ... and ... when I was at the cemetery ... I looked at the graves around our loved ones. Though my survey was not scientific, it was a reasonable statistical sampling. I checked out the dates on dozens and dozens of markers and made a mental note of how old the interred were at death. I did not bother with sex or race or ethnicity ... just age at death.

The result was the same in Texas as it was in Colorado and it was astonishing. My informal survey says that ... as measured by grave markers ... the average life expectancy of an American is actually about ... 45 years ... not 75 ... not 65 ... not even 55 ... just a dismal 45 years old ... then you can expect to croak.

Where is my mistake?

I don't really know. There are many factors which might skew such an average. Let's list some.

1) The population is much greater now than in 1950 ... so, I would expect to see less oldsters going belly up as a percentage of the total now dying. By this I mean that more teens and kids are dying than you would expect just because there are so many more of them now and people are living longer.

2) Death costs big bucks. Maybe older people don't have the cash and-or don't want to be a burden on their families ... so they opt for cremation. Could be ...

3) Maybe I'm in the "cheap seats" and the people all around these graves are po' foke and die younger because they can't afford better medical care?

4) There is a dark conspiracy and they don't want us to know we're all dying young?

Well, none of the above seems to make sense enough to contribute to such a massive discrepancy. I'm open to suggestions. Perhaps one of you readers can tell me why the ages on the stones don't match up with the stated life expectancy. This has me baffled. Try going to any local cemetery and pick graves at random and tally the age at death and how many people you checked out. Add all the ages together and divide by the number of people. That's the life expectancy in that particular cemetery.

Now, I checked out the ground around new graves. That means that all the people buried there were buried in the last ten to fifteen years. Obviously, the newer graves are where the land is unused so the older graves tend to cluster in the first used part of the cemetery.

I'd like to know too, how our present cemeteries fair when compared to really old cemeteries, i.e. from the 19th century and much earlier in the 20th century. Do they show similar discrepancies?

Some years back I made a survey of the obituaries in newspapers and the ages there seemed to be closer to the stated life expectancies but they were still off noticeably. There must be a combination of factors causing this glaring inconsistency.

Right next to my mother-in-law lies a 13 year old girl. Now, 13 represents a shortfall of about 60 years off the general life expectancy in the last half century of about 70 ... so ... we would expect to find about six 80 year olds in the cemetery to make up the deficit and bring the average back up to 70 ... but these are not there. No way is there enough older than 70 people to bring the average back in line. There are very old in those cemeteries but just not enough to balance the teenagers, young mothers and such that are there in droves.

The most common age of death in both cemeteries that I investigated was in the 50-60 years bracket. I call this the "ho-hum" bracket as it causes no sense of surprise at all. There are so many. The pitiful truth is that for every old lady who died surrounded by her kin (as my mother-in-law did) ... there are a few more who died at 25 or a 36 year old mother or 40 year old secretary. When you see the imbalance between the young and old in the cemetery, you can see why the average age at death must be lower than the "ho-hum" age of ~55 ... more like 45. Pitiful, just pitiful.

If you do check out a cemetery ...

You may find yourself quickening your pace as it dawns on you that the above is true. You may start hurrying to the next grave hoping that you'll find a string of oldsters to balance that youngin' who died at twelve. You won't find them. It's kinda like the panic scene from a Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode ... where the main character races around in denial finally seeing that he's the one who's actually dead. It's creepy.

Send me your results if you go. I'm interested to see if all cemeteries are the same.

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