GOP Policies Are Shortening American Lives

In one of the most alarming trends in recent history, the American lifespan is getting shorter.

For decades, the United States tracked the progress of other developed countries, as advances in nutrition, medicine and health care added years to the average life expectancy. But starting about 10 years ago, that progress stalled in the U.S. People in other wealthy countries kept living longer and longer, but Americans plateaued. In 2014, American life expectancy fell backward for the first time in 21 years. U.S. lifespans slid lower for another three years straight before barely ticking upward in 2018.

This backward slide has set off one of the most important debates in epidemiology: What’s happening? Explanations range from America’s semi-privatized medical system to its higher rates of sedentary lifestyles to “deaths of despair” among poor rural whites.

This month, a team of epidemiologists, physicians and political scientists published a study that found an even simpler explanation: Republicans.

Conservative policies, the researchers found, are the driving force behind America’s declining lifespans.

“Across a huge range of issues, the more liberal version of state policies predicts longer life expectancy and the conservative version predicts shorter life expectancy,” said Jennifer Karas Montez, a sociologist at Syracuse University and the study’s lead author. Passing tougher regulations on tobacco and guns while enhancing labor rights and pay could extend U.S. life expectancy by as much as 2.8 years for women and 2.1 years for men. “Our findings are very powerful and very consistent,” Montez said.

The study illuminates the choice before Americans in the 2020 election. While the Republican Party has declined to release a national policy platform for the next four years, the GOP currently holds 29 state legislatures and 26 governorships and has spent decades enacting its preferred policies in conservative states.

Over the last decade, a...

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