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Social Inequality and the Future of US Life Expectancy – Carolina Center for Population Aging and Health

Social Inequality and the Future of US Life Expectancy


Gutin, Iliya & Hummer, Robert A. (2021). Social Inequality and the Future of US Life Expectancy. Annual Review of Sociology, 47, 501-520. PMCID: PMC8340572


Despite decades of progress, the future of life expectancy in the United States is uncertain due to widening socioeconomic disparities in mortality, continued disparities in mortality across racial/ethnic groups, and an increase in extrinsic causes of death. These trends prompt us to scrutinize life expectancy in a high-income but enormously unequal society like the United States, where social factors determine who is most able to maximize their biological lifespan. After reviewing evidence for biodemographic perspectives on life expectancy, the uneven diffusion of health-enhancing innovations throughout the population, and the changing nature of threats to population health, we argue that sociology is optimally positioned to lead discourse on the future of life expectancy. Given recent trends, sociologists should emphasize the importance of the social determinants of life expectancy, redirecting research focus away from extending extreme longevity and toward research on social inequality with the goal of improving population health for all.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Annual Review of Sociology


Gutin, Iliya
Hummer, Robert A.

Article Type





United States of America




Hummer - 0000-0003-3058-6383
Gutin - 0000-0003-4216-8963