Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Sociology and Anthropology

Department name when degree awarded


Committee Chair(s)

Eric N. Reither


Eric N. Reither


So-Jung Lim


Julie A. Gast


For decades, blacks have faced shorter life expectancy than their white counterparts. This persistent disparity has led to a gap in life expectancy between the two groups. Nationally, this gap has decreased over the last 40 years. However, this is not the case at the state-level as some states have experienced little or no improvement in the life expectancy gap. Such is the case in Wisconsin, where the life expectancy gap is the largest in the nation for males, and the gap actually has grown for females over the last two decades. This study seeks to examine this persistent gap in Wisconsin by looking at different causes of death and the ages when they contribute most to the gap. Additionally, this study will examine how the contribution of certain causes of death have changed over time, both between blacks and whites, and also within each group. Using 1999-2001 and 2009-2011 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, this study found that heart disease and malignant neoplasms (cancer) contributed most to the life expectancy gap between blacks and whites and also over time within each group. For females, diabetes and perinatal conditions were found to be top contributors to the black-white gap. Diabetes contributed most after the age of 50. For males, homicide was found to be a top contributor to the black-white gap, particularly among youth aged 15 to 29. Homicide among males frequently ranked near heart disease and malignant neoplasms as a leading contributor to the gap. These findings tell us that by reducing death rates from these causes at particular moments in the life course, the life expectancy gap between blacks and whites can be reduced. This study provides important evidence that health policy makers can use to address racial disparities in life expectancy.