States Where People Live the Longest

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Source: Damian Entwistle from Nelson, Lancashire, England / Wikimedia Commons

50. Mississippi
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 74.7 years
> Life expectancy at birth in 1980: 71.6 years (2nd lowest)
> 1980-2015 life expectancy change: 3.1 years (5th smallest)

Life expectancy at birth in Mississippi is the lowest of all states and has historically been low. As is generally the case in states with low life expectancy, Mississippi struggles with poverty, and residents report relatively unhealthy behaviors. At 19.8%, no state has a higher poverty rate. Mississippi also has the largest share of adults who do not exercise, at more than a third of the local adult population.

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49. West Virginia
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 75.3 years
> Life expectancy at birth in 1980: 72.8 years (10th lowest)
> 1980-2015 life expectancy change: 2.5 years (2nd smallest)

Like every other state, life expectancy in West Virginia has improved in recent decades. Even though a baby born in West Virginia is expected to live longer than a newborn in 1980, the 2.5 year increase was the second smallest. The state’s life expectancy rank dropped from 10th lowest in 1980 to second lowest of all states in 2015.

Obesity and smoking may be contributing factors. Mortality among smokers in the United States is three times higher than among people who have never smoked, and West Virginia has the highest adult smoking rate, at 24.8%. The state’s adult obesity rate of 35.5% is also the highest of all states.

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48. Alabama
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 75.4 years
> Life expectancy at birth in 1980: 72.3 years (5th lowest)
> 1980-2015 life expectancy change: 3.1 years (6th smallest)

Similar to other states with the shortest life expectancies, Alabama struggles with poverty, and residents report relatively unhealthy behaviors, such as adult obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking.

Because of access to often expensive medical care, as well as other factors, income is one of the strongest predictors of life expectancy. But so is educational attainment. A 2014 study found individuals in the lowest income quartile had more healthful behaviors and lived longer in areas with more college graduates. The share of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the Cotton State is low, at 25.5%.

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47. Louisiana
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 75.6 years
> Life expectancy at birth in 1980: 71.6 years (the lowest)
> 1980-2015 life expectancy change: 4.0 years (15th smallest)

Poverty and poor health are closely related. Having little money increases the chance of poor health because of poorer access to health care and to healthy food and lifestyle choices. Further, the cost of going to the doctor as well as the possible treatment that may follow can be devastating financially.

Louisiana is the state with the second largest share of the population living below the poverty line. Relatively high numbers of households in the state live on incomes considerably lower than the poverty threshold. The Creole State has the highest number of households living with less than $10,000 a year.

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46. Oklahoma
> Life expectancy at birth in 2015: 75.7 years
> Life expectancy at birth in 1980: 73.6 years (23rd lowest)
> 1980-2015 life expectancy change: 2.1 years (the smallest)

Life expectancy at birth in Oklahoma has increased since 1980 by just over two years, the smallest increase among all 50 states. In 1980, Oklahoma was ranked 23rd in life expectancy. By 2015, its rank had dropped to 46th.

In addition to excessive drinking, obesity, and lack of physical activity — the Sooner State ranks high in all three — Oklahoma has the second highest share of the population without health insurance, at 14.2%. Research has shown that uninsured adults have worse access to care, receive poorer quality of care, and experience worse health outcomes than insured adults.