Conservative concern? Study finds Americans in ‘red states’ more likely to die early

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — U.S. states with liberal policies toward working conditions, gun safety, and tobacco save hundreds of thousands of Americans’ lives each year, new research finds.

If individual state governments across the country had changed to a “fully conservative orientation” in 2019, more than 217,000 lives may have been lost in that year alone, according to a new study on rising U.S. mortality rates. States with liberal policies regarding the environment, gun safety, labor, economic taxes, and tobacco taxes have lower mortality rates, particularly among working-age American men.

The study authors sought potential macro-policy answers for why Americans as a whole die at a younger age than most other high-income countries. More specifically, the team wanted to find out why people who live in states with conservative policies are dying off earlier from cardiovascular or alcohol-related causes.

They analyzed working-age mortality rates and state-versus-state policies from 1999 to 2019. Their research honed in on rising death rates from cardiovascular disease (CVD), alcohol-induced causes, suicide, and drug poisoning fatalities.

The report highlights how state policies on the macro level trickle down to the meso-level of one’s community, family and work structures, and then even further down into shaping individuals’ economic circumstances. Examples they give are U.S. state minimum wage levels and earned income tax credits. Additionally, family conditions are affected via paid-leave and access to reproductive health care and environmental conditions via policies on housing, food deserts, and green space. An individual’s behaviors are also nuanced via state laws on tobacco taxes and marijuana legalization.

“State policies have hyperpolarized during this period, with many states’ policy contexts moving toward more extreme ‘left’ or ‘right’ positions on the political spectrum,” the researchers write in the journal PLoS ONE.

Where you live in the U.S. could add 7 years to your life

Americans currently die an average of 5.7 years earlier than people in Japan, 3.3 years earlier than Canadians, and 2.2 years before their counterparts in the United Kingdom. However, there is a stark contrast between state-by-state life expectancy rates, which range from 74.4 years in Mississippi up to 81 years in Hawaii. U.S. life expectancy rates have stagnated in recent years because of rising mortality rates among adults between 25 to 64 years-old — predominately one’s prime years in the workforce.

“U.S. state policies in recent decades may have contributed to the high and rising mortality rates of working-age adults. Changing state policies could prevent thousands of deaths every year from cardiovascular disease, suicide, alcohol, and drug poisoning,” the study authors write in a media release.

The study authors reiterate that “no single factor” is capable of explaining the increase in U.S. mortality rates at younger and younger ages. Additionally, factors like lower tax rates for businesses have led many Americans to move out of so-called blue states and into red states in recent years.

Simulations in the study suggest that changing “all policies in all states to a fully liberal orientation” could have preserved 171,030 lives in 2019. On the other hand, changing such state policies to a fully conservative orientation may have cost 217,635 lives.

Numerous recent studies tie policy issues into lifestyle factors which range from happiness to life expectancy. A Brigham and Women’s Hospital “mortality gap” study similarly found that people who live in Republican-led counties die younger than those under Democratic-led local policies. The gap found heart disease and cancer mortality rates are widening between White Americans who live in conservative or liberal municipalities – with GOP-led counties having increasingly worse death rates.

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