, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 215–239 | Cite as

Hispanic-White Differences in Lifespan Variability in the United States

  • Joseph T. LariscyEmail author
  • Claudia Nau
  • Glenn Firebaugh
  • Robert A. Hummer


This study is the first to investigate whether and, if so, why Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in the United States differ in the variability of their lifespans. Although Hispanics enjoy higher life expectancy than whites, very little is known about how lifespan variability—and thus uncertainty about length of life—differs by race/ethnicity. We use 2010 U.S. National Vital Statistics System data to calculate lifespan variance at ages 10+ for Hispanics and whites, and then decompose the Hispanic-white variance difference into cause-specific spread, allocation, and timing effects. In addition to their higher life expectancy relative to whites, Hispanics also exhibit 7 % lower lifespan variability, with a larger gap among women than men. Differences in cause-specific incidence (allocation effects) explain nearly two-thirds of Hispanics’ lower lifespan variability, mainly because of the higher mortality from suicide, accidental poisoning, and lung cancer among whites. Most of the remaining Hispanic-white variance difference is due to greater age dispersion (spread effects) in mortality from heart disease and residual causes among whites than Hispanics. Thus, the Hispanic paradox—that a socioeconomically disadvantaged population (Hispanics) enjoys a mortality advantage over a socioeconomically advantaged population (whites)—pertains to lifespan variability as well as to life expectancy. Efforts to reduce U.S. lifespan variability and simultaneously increase life expectancy, especially for whites, should target premature, young adult causes of death—in particular, suicide, accidental poisoning, and homicide. We conclude by discussing how the analysis of Hispanic-white differences in lifespan variability contributes to our understanding of the Hispanic paradox.


Hispanic paradox Lifespan variability Adult mortality Race/ethnicity Cause of death 



An earlier draft of this article was presented at the 2013 Population Association of America meeting in New Orleans, LA. We would like to thank Vladimir Canudas-Romo for his thoughtful comments and the National Center for Health Statistics for providing a special request data file. Research for this article was supported by training grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (5 T32 HD007081) and the National Institute on Aging (5 T32 AG000139). We are grateful to the Carolina Population Center and its NIH center grant (2 P2C HD050924-11) for general support.

Supplementary material

13524_2015_450_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (20 kb)
Table S1 (PDF 20 kb)
13524_2015_450_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (257 kb)
Fig. S1 (PDF 257 kb)


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph T. Lariscy
    • 1
    Email author
  • Claudia Nau
    • 2
  • Glenn Firebaugh
    • 3
  • Robert A. Hummer
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MemphisMemphisUSA
  2. 2.The Johns Hopkins Global Obesity Prevention Center, Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Population Research Institute and Department of Sociology and CriminologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Carolina Population Center and Department of SociologyUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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