Life span for Detroit’s poor among shortest in nation (2023)

Christine MacDonald, and Charles E. Ramirez

New research finds that Metro Detroit’s poor not only live shorter lives than other low-income people in the nation’s big cities, but Detroiters die up to 16 years sooner than their suburban neighbors.

Life span for Detroit’s poor among shortest in nation (1)

Wayne County had the lowest life span for a poor 40-year-old — 77 years — among the nation’s largest 100 counties, according to the Health Inequality Project, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April. The Metro Detroit area also ranked at the bottom — 95 out of 100 — for the life spans of its poor, which was nearly 78 years.

Low-income people fare better, in Queens, New York, where they are expected to live to age 83, Florida’s Miami Dade County, where they live to 81 and Chicago’s Cook County, 80.

And inside Wayne County alone there are dramatic differences in how long residents live depending on their ZIP code, according to a study released Thursday by the Virginia Commonwealth University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In Northville Township, a baby born today is expected to live to age 85, while 30 miles away, life expectancy in Detroit’s Cass Corridor is as low as 69 years, a 16-year gap.

“We’ve got 69-year expectancy (in parts of Detroit.) That is just a little bit worse than in Russia and North Korea,” said Derek Chapman, associate director for research at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health. “That is a sobering look at where our country fits.”

Researchers say the link between a person’s income and how long he or she lives is well established, while the recent studies show a web of other factors can influence life spans, including geography, especially when comparing those of similar economic means. The Health Inequality study separated people into four income categories based on Social Security records, with those making less than $28,000 at the bottom and people making more than $99,000 at the top.

Experts couldn’t say exactly why the life span of Metro Detroit’s poor lags much of the nation, but suggest high levels of obesity, smoking and limited access to mass transit, medical facilities, healthy food and places to exercise could all play a role, as could the stresses from poverty, crime and low education levels.

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Gaps in Wayne County life spans by ZIP code

Neighboring discrepancies

The researchers in the Virginia Commonwealth report found that even bordering ZIP codes can have huge gaps, such as the 11-year difference along the infamous divide between the Grosse Pointes and Detroit. Residents in Grosse Pointe’s 48230 ZIP code live to age 81 on average compared to the neighboring 48215 ZIP code in Detroit, where the average life span is to age 70.

The gap between average household incomes in those two areas is more than $78,000, with households in 48215 making $21,633 and those in 48203 making $99,714, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“They don’t have the stress the people in Detroit do,” said Ronda Yeley, a 56-year-old Detroiter who lives in the east side’s 48205 ZIP code where the life expectancy is 70 years. “How do you keep your home? How do you make the light bill?”

Yeley was hospitalized this spring with a panic attack, suffered from migraines and was repeatedly vomiting while fighting her home’s tax foreclosure, she said. Her 69-year-old husband James Yeley’s blood pressure skyrocketed during that period, she added. They were able to save their home with help from a nonprofit but are still worried about getting money to fix it up.

It has no running water in the kitchen. They use a garden hose in the basement for a shower. The couple lives on a combined $2,100 a month in Social Security disability payments, of which about $600 goes to medical coverage, they said.

“The power of place is real,” said Chris Allen, executive director of Authority Health, formerly the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority, an agency created by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2003 to strengthen the health care safety net. “The stress on these neighborhoods, it is a chronic stress.

“Some people are just trying to get through the week.”

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Life span for Detroit’s poor among shortest in nation (2)

Detroit’s 48201 ZIP code had the lowest average life span at 69 in Wayne County, according to the VCU data, which looked at state death records. That area includes Midtown, which has seen a development boom in the last several years. Chapman said the study included deaths from 2004 to 2013, which may not reflect recent neighborhood improvements.

The longest life span, 85 years, was found in the 48168 ZIP code, which includes Northville Township and a small part of rural Washtenaw County. The VCU study looked primarily at Wayne County ZIP codes in Michigan.

The Virginia researchers have released similar data for a dozen other large U.S. cities. In those studies, the largest gap among a city’s ZIP codes — 20 years — was in Philadelphia. Detroit and Las Vegas were second, with up to16 years difference between ZIP codes.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the executive director of the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness, said high diabetes and infant mortality rates are a part of what is driving life spans down in Wayne County. A Detroit News investigation in 2014 found that Detroit is the deadliest city in the United States for children primarily because of high rates of infant deaths and homicide.

El-Sayed said it also is often difficult for residents, particularly seniors, to get to the doctor because of the expansiveness of the city and the limitations of public transportation. Denser areas such as New York with an extensive public transportation system can concentrate services where people live, he added.

Paul Bridgewater, president of the Detroit Area Agency on Aging, said a study by the agency found 20 percent of the city’s elderly don’t have their own transportation and 64 percent live in medically underserved areas.

“We are an urban place that is organized like a rural place,” El-Sayed said. “It’s a double whammy.”

“We are so spread out and we have such a challenge with public transportation. It is really about space and how we built this city.”

Life span for Detroit’s poor among shortest in nation (3)

NYC touts health campaigns

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Researchers with the Health Inequality study say they found that geographic differences in life spans weren’t tied to the percentage with health insurance or an area’s economic decline.

“Life expectancy for low-income individuals is the longest in dense urban areas where a large fraction of residents are college graduates, and in areas with higher per-capita government expenditures,” such as New York and San Francisco, wrote Ben Scuderi, one of the researchers in an email to The News.

Because life expectancy varies among different racial groups, the Health Inequality study’s authors adjusted for race nationally, factoring in what an area’s life span would be if every place had a equal share of whites, Hispanics, blacks and other races.

New York health officials attributed some of that area’s longer life spans for the poor to heavy investments in anti-smoking and obesity campaigns. One well-known example was former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban of super-sized soft drinks in the city that was overturned by the courts in 2014.

The adult smoking rate in Queens, one of the five boroughs in New York City, is 12 percent, compared to Wayne County at 22 percent. Similarly Wayne’s percentage of those considered obese is 34 percent, compared to Queens at 24 percent.

Health officials in Los Angeles said that area also has a strong safety net of publicly funded programs and are trying new techniques, such as working with city planners and redesigning communities to reduce traffic and violence.

The idea is “to make it easier to be physically active, access health food, feel safe when walking,” said Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“You can have people with the same degrees of poverty, but one is going to experience worse ... health consequences when they don’t have a safety net or other support system,” said professor Steven Woolf, director of the VCU’s Center on Society and Health.

Detroit’s crime rate wasn’t factored into either study, but researchers said it could be a cause, including adding to stress and preventing people from getting out for exercise.

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In Michigan, the lowest life spans for the poor were in Genesee and Wayne counties at about 77 years, and the longest were 81 in western rural Barry and Oceana counties.

Metro Detroit’s disparity was evident last week while walking through two ZIP codes: Grosse Pointe’s 48236, where residents are expected to live to 82, and Detroit’s 48203, where the average life span is 70.

“We try to walk four miles a day, five or six days a week,” said Ann Jerome, 71, while on Grosse Pointe Boulevard with her husband, George Jerome, 77, a semi-retired civil engineer.

Both said it’s not surprising that people who live in their community live longer than other Wayne County residents.

“Most Grosse Pointers don’t have the stress a lot of people do,” said George Jerome. “And I think that’s probably due to their financial security.”

About 12 miles away, walking several blocks to the store was tiring for John Ray, on East State Fair.

At 68, he uses a cane, in part because he was injured while working as a city bus driver. The nearest liquor store caught fire this winter and he now walks farther for cigarettes and food basics. He lost his home to tax foreclosure last year, he said, and now rents a room from a woman nearby for $400 a month. With no car, he pays her $10 for each weekly trip to the grocery store.

“I know it’s not good for me, but you have to do something for that stress,” Ray said of his smoking habit.

When told the average life span in the ZIP code is 70, he also said he wasn’t surprised.

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“I hope I make it past it,” Ray said.

Life span for Detroit’s poor among shortest in nation (4)


What is the average lifespan Detroit? ›

The life expectancy for a Detroit resident is 73 years, two years lower than for Wayne County, and five years lower than for the state.

Who has the shortest life expectancy in the US? ›

Mississippi's longevity is the lowest in the United States at 74.6 years. Mississippi men live the shortest lives on average of 71.4 years.

Which group has the lowest life expectancy? ›

Life expectancy for Black people was only 71.8 years compared to 77.6 years for White people and 78.8 years for Hispanic people.

Which group has the lowest average life expectancy in the United States? ›

In 2019, overall life expectancy in years was 85.7 for the Asian population, 82.2 for the Latino population, 78.9 for the white population, 75.3 for the Black population, and 73.1 for the AIAN population.

Is Detroit a poverty city? ›

Detroit is a comeback city. Yet, we remain the poorest large city in the United States, according to Forbes.

Is Detroit in poverty? ›

The poverty rate in Detroit is 37.9%. One out of every 2.6 residents of Detroit lives in poverty.
Poverty Rate in Detroit, Michigan.
CityPoverty Rate
Dearborn Heights19.2%
27 more rows

Who has the shortest life expectancy? ›

10 Countries With The Shortest Life Expectancies
RankCountryLife Expectancy at Birth
1Swaziland49 years
2Lesotho50 years
3Sierra Leone51 years
4Central African Republic51 years
6 more rows

What country has the shortest life expectancy 2022? ›

Males born in the Lesotho have the lowest life expectancy of the world in 2022. Similarly low is the life expectancy for females born in this country. The average woman lives only 56 years. The lowest life expectancy for women in the world in 2022 was for girls born in Nigeria, with only 54 years.

Who has the most shortest lifespan? ›

The Sign Eviota, Eviota sigillata, a tiny coral reef fish, completes its entire life cycle within an eight week period. This species has the shortest lifespan of any vertebrate. In their 2005 paper Martial Depczynski and David Bellwood describe the Sign Eviota's remarkable life cycle.

What race has greatest life expectancy? ›

Racial gaps in life expectancy have long been recognized. The same CDC data show that nationally, Hispanic Americans have the longest life expectancy, followed by white and then Black Americans.

Which state in US has longest life expectancy? ›

Among U.S. states, Hawaii has the highest life expectancy at birth, according to an Aug. 23 report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

Why do poor countries have low life expectancy? ›

Generally, wealthier countries have a higher average life expectancy than poorer countries [2,3,4], which can be argued to be achieved through higher standards of living, more effective health systems, and more resources invested in determinants of health (e.g. sanitation, housing, education) [5].

What is the biggest problem in Detroit? ›

Is Detroit finally turning the corner? Or is gentrification a problem. Poverty is Detroit's biggest problem. Gentrification doesn't come close.

What is the poorest big city in the US? ›

Poverty rate of the top 25 most populated cities in the U.S. 2021. In 2021, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the city with the highest poverty rate of the United States' most populated cities. In this statistic, the cities are sorted by poverty rate, not population.

Is Detroit one of the poorest city in America? ›

The Poorest Cities in the US

An estimated 38.1 million people fall below the poverty line in the United States. According to the 2018 census, that threshold is $25,700 per year for a family of four. Here are the ten poorest cities in the United States, with Detroit Michigan topping the list.

What state is the poorest state in the US? ›

Poverty rates were highest in the states of Mississippi (19.58%), Louisiana (18.65%), New Mexico (18.55%), West Virginia (17.10%), Kentucky (16.61%), and Arkansas (16.08%), and they were lowest in the states of New Hampshire (7.42%), Maryland (9.02%), Utah (9.13%), Hawaii (9.26%), and Minnesota (9.33%).

Is Detroit getting worse? ›

Much of Detroit is getting worse. For all the talk about gentrification, much of Detroit is still reeling from a housing crisis that decimates neighborhoods and displaces residents.

What state has lowest lifespan? ›

These are the states with the shortest total life expectancy at birth in 2020, according to CDC data.
  • South Carolina. Total life expectancy: 74.8 years. ...
  • New Mexico. Total life expectancy: 74.5 years. ...
  • Oklahoma. Total life expectancy: 74.1 years. ...
  • Arkansas. Total life expectancy: 73.8 years. ...
  • Tennessee. ...
  • Kentucky. ...
  • Alabama. ...
  • Louisiana.
24 Aug 2022

Why do Italians live so long? ›

Mediterranean diet

As the renowned medical journal Lancet points out, eating habits play a key role when it comes to Italians and longevity. A large part of the population can easily bring fresh and healthy food to the table, regardless of social status and income. This is what makes the difference.

What nationality lives the longest? ›

Countries ranked by life expectancy
#CountryMales Life Expectancy
1Hong Kong82.38
92 more rows

What birth month lives the shortest? ›

We used Danish data from the years 1911 to 1915 on seasonal infant mortality in the first year of life and found that, according to our model (Eq. 4), infants born in June are the most vulnerable.

Do shorter humans live longer? ›

Findings based on millions of deaths suggest that shorter, smaller bodies have lower death rates and fewer diet-related chronic diseases, especially past middle age. Shorter people also appear to have longer average lifespans.

Why do females live longer? ›

Biological differences also help to explain women's higher longevity. Scientists believe that estrogen in women combats conditions such as heart disease by helping reduce circulatory levels of harmful cholesterol. Women are also thought to have stronger immune systems than men.

Do educated people live longer? ›

A 25-YEAR-OLD American with a university degree can expect to live a decade longer than a contemporary who dropped out of high school. Although researchers have long known that the rich live longer than the poor, this education gap is less well documented—and is especially marked in rich countries.

How long does the average Black man live? ›

NOEL KING, HOST: Black men in America live, on average, 72 years. That is four years less than white men. Now a growing body of research suggests there may be a way to change that, but the solution raises difficult questions for a society that dreams of being colorblind.

What's the average lifespan of a Black man? ›

The life expectancy among Black individuals in the U.S. decreased from 74.7 years to 71.8 years. Among white individuals, life expectancy decreased from 79.9 years to 77.6 years.

Do humans live longer in hot or cold climates? ›

From a longevity standpoint, a cold environment has been shown to be optimal vs. a warmer environment in terms of median and maximal lifespan in a variety of species.

Who typically lives longer in the US? ›

The numbers don't lie: women tend to live longer than men. The average American man will live to age 76, according to the latest CDC figures, while the average woman in America will live to age 81.

What is the average age of death? ›

Life expectancy for men and women

A male child born in the United States today will live to be 74.5 years old on average. This puts the male citizens of the US in 52nd place in this ranking. On average, US women are 5.7 years older, reaching an age of 80.2.

› country-rankings › l... ›

Life Expectancy by Country 2022 › country-rankings › l... › country-rankings › l...
Life expectancy at birth reflects the overall mortality level of a population. It is the average period that a person may expect to live. Significant factors in...
Men and women in Sub-Saharan Africa live shorter lives than those from anywhere else on earth.
Out of the established 224 countries on the earth, these are the bottom five with the lowest life expectancy in the world. The countries listed below range from...

Which city has the longest lifespan? ›

Okinawa, Japan

The result? A culture that boasts the longest-living women in the world, with many surpassing 100.

What is the biggest problem in Detroit? ›

Is Detroit finally turning the corner? Or is gentrification a problem. Poverty is Detroit's biggest problem. Gentrification doesn't come close.

Is Detroit growing or shrinking? ›

Detroit has been one of the most salient examples of a shrinking city over the last 60 years.

Which US cities have the longest life expectancy? ›

Most rural areas actually have a lower 2020 life expectancy than a decade earlier.
Long life: Cities across the US where people live the longest include San Francisco and Boulder
  1. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida.
  2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California.
24 Dec 2020

What type of people live longest? ›

Elderly Okinawans have among the lowest death rates in the world from common diseases — a fact attributed to a traditional Japanese diet, with only 25 percent of sugar and 75 percent of grain intake.

What race of people live the longest? ›

Asian-Americans top the list at 86.5 years, with Latinos following closely behind at 82.8 years. Third of the five groups are Caucasians, with an average life expectancy of about 78.9 years, followed by Native Americans at 76.9 years. The final group, African Americans, has a life expectancy of 74.6 years.

What diet lives the longest? ›

The Adventist Health Study 2, which has been following 96,000 Americans since 2002, found that the people who lived the longest were not vegans or meat-eaters. They were “pesco-vegetarians,” or pescatarians, people who ate a plant-based diet including a small portion of fish, up to once daily.

Why is Detroit Michigan so stressful? ›

Detroit also ranked second in financial stress, due to the job market and economy of the city. Motor City also ranked 7th in family stress, likely a factor due to the high stress caused from financial and health and safety stressed.

Is it worth buying property in Detroit? ›

A Detroit single-family house is a terrific investment prospect with high returns and cash flow because the purchase price is much less than $100,000. It's also the metro's fastest-growing city for rentals, with a 19.5 percent increase since last year.

What is the current situation of Detroit? ›

Currently, there is an unemployment rate over 14% which puts Detroit far over the average line. In fact, Detroit has a 2% greater unemployment rate than those cities classified as “double trouble” due to suffering losses in both job and population growth.

Why people are leaving Detroit? ›

Flawed government policies were. Long-term grievances of the city's poor African-American community -- police abuse, slum housing, unemployment and poor schools -- were disregarded, until residents rebelled at these intolerable conditions and shocked the conscience of Detroit and the nation.

Why are residents leaving Detroit? ›

Tired of high insurance, taxes, struggling schools and vacancy, among other challenges, the Black middle class has been leading the city's population exodus since 2000. To ensure equitable growth, Detroit would have to gain 27,700 Black middle-class households.

Is Detroit more black or white? ›

Female persons, percent 52.7% 50.5%
Race and Hispanic Origin
White alone, percent 14.4% 75.8%
Black or African American alone, percent(a) 77.1% 13.6%
54 more rows


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