Race and medicine

By Megan McArdle

This is very interesting. In 1950, black and white life expectancy at birth were very different: a white baby born that year could expect to live an average of 68.2 years, versus just 60.2 years for a black baby. But there was no significant difference between blacks and whites at retirement: at the age of 65, both could expect to live about another 13.9 years.

For the rest of the century, life expectancy at birth narrows considerably; the difference between groups is now five years, and falling. But the gap at retirement widens. White 65 year olds now get an extra 1.8 years compared to their black countrymen; at 75, the gap is a smaller, but still significant, 8 1/2 months.

It's tempting to blame this on disparity in health care access, and I wouldn't be exactly surprised to find that this is part of the case. But the subtler problem is that because Europeans are the major market, most drugs are designed for Europeans; and it turns out that there are races, at least as far as medicine is concerned. Blacks are more prone to diseases like diabetes and hypertension, and they tend to get more difficult to treat forms of some diseases such as artery blockage. While some of the medical differences are due to poverty, education, and possibly to racial disparities in treatment, many of the differences persist even when things like income and education are controlled for.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/09/race-and-medicine/2027/