WV Center on Budget and Policy > Blog > Family Economic Security > Life Expectancy of West Virginians Falling Further Behind

Life Expectancy of West Virginians Falling Further Behind

According to a new study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, life expectancy of U.S. women slipped in some regions, declining in 737 U.S. counties (out of more than 3,000) between 1997 and 2007.

Even though life expectancy nationwide has risen over the last two decades, there is a widening gap between the most and least healthy places to live. In addition, the United States is falling even further behind other industrialized nations. According to the study, which is being published in Population Health Metrics, the worst performing counties were clustered primarily in Appalachia, the Deep South and the lower Midwest.

 In West Virginia, 25 out of its 55 counties (45%) experienced a drop in life expectancy. Twenty-three counties had a drop in life expectancy for women while only fourteen counties had a drop in life expectancy for men. Furthermore life expectancy in 2007 ranged from 66.3 (McDowell) to 75.5 (Putnam) years for men and 74.7 (McDowell) to 80.2 (Marshall) years for women.

Across the U.S. counties however, life expectancy ranged from 65.9 to 81.1 years for men and 73.5 to 86.0 years for women. When compared against a time series of life expectancy in the 10 nations with the lowest mortality, counties in West Virginia range from being 14 (Monongalia) to 51 (Logan, McDowell, Mingo) calendar years behind for men and 20 (Marshall) to 47 (McDowell) calendar years behind for women.

West Virginia also fared much worse than national averages with U.S. counties range from being 15 years ahead to over 50 years behind for men and 16 years ahead to over 50 years behind for women. Moreover, between 2000 and 2007, almost every county (96% for men and 98% for women) in West Virginia fell further behind the international life expectancy standard. Although the remaining counties (Marshall, McDowell, and Putnam) did not experience a change in the international life expectancy standard, McDowell County was still 51 years behind for men, Putnam County was 14 years behind for men, and Marshall County was 20 years behind for women. In comparison, between 2000 and 2007, 80% (men) and 91% (women) of U.S. counties fell in standing against this international life expectancy standard. According to the study, these astonishing trends are largely fueled by smoking, high blood pressure and obesity in which West Virginia ranked 49th, 50th and 45th, respectively in 2010 (United Health Foundation). Here is a table listing the life expectancy data for counties in West Virginia.

The Washington Post has produced a great county map and you can find out more about how West Virginia counties measure up on other health statistics here.

 Posted by Stavros Atsas and Ted Boettner

4 Responses to “Life Expectancy of West Virginians Falling Further Behind”

  1. Sean O'Leary says:

    West Virginia’s life expectancy numbers are tragic — especially those in the southern coal fields. The article is no doubt correct in citing smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure as contributing factors. However, it fails to mention another factor that is very likely the most powerful of all — emigration.

    We’re all familiar with the massive losses in population suffered by many parts of the state, but we’re less aware of the fact that those who emigrate tend to be younger, better educated, and, with respect to the topic of this article, healthier than those who stay behind. That fact, as much as the reasons cited in the article, reduces average life expectancy figures.

    A more thorough discussion of the social, economic, and health impact of emigration can be seen at my blog: http://asitisheard.blogspotcom/2010_08_01_archive.html.

    The fact that emigration is a major contributor to lower average life expectancy doesn’t diminish the need to improve lifestyles and reduce the prevalence of preventable diseases. But, it does suggest that, as with many health issues, there are economic and poverty-related factors that cannot be ignored.

  2. Jonathan says:

    According to the CDC precription drug related deaths have more tha tripled in WV over the past decade… A very important variable which has not been included in this study

  3. Frank says:

    I’ve lived in West Virginia my whole life, there’s no money here, if you make more than 20,000 a year you work for the state or the mines… black lung is also a problem here, and Meth is cooked up every holler, a cop making 8-9 dollars and hour ain’t goin somewheres he’s gonna be out gunned to fix the problem, you can’t even get cell signal anywhere in the state except the larger cities ex: Charleston, Huntington, Beckley… before movein to Kanawha county, I had to drive 45 minutes to work at a job that paid 7.25 an hour… the government of this state needs counseling or something, oncet you get here on the interstate, you have to pay several tolls, they say there trying to bring business here, but raise the cost of traveling I-64! Not to mention we’ve higher gas prices than any state we border, is 3.89 a gallon right now at the fillin station down by the mouth of the holler… this state is a joke, I’d move away in a heart beat if i could… I’m not surprised people live longer elsewheres…

    • Tana says:


      If you are still in West Virginia, you know things have only gotten worse. One positive thing I can say…every person I know that has moved here from out of state, moved here for a person; including me. This says something about West Virginians, as people.

      However, had I known what a miserable place West Virginia is, I don’t know that I would have moved here. I moved to West Virginia in 2013 from Columbus, Ohio. Wow! night and day with respect to everything…smoking, meth use, life expectancy, commerce, education, jobs, and pure happiness.

      As they say here in West Virginia…the last one to leave should turn out the lights.

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