More and more Americans are moving from Democratic-leaning blue states to Republican-voting red ones, and one of the effects of this change is that they are relocating to places with lower life expectancy.
Idaho, Montana and Florida, all red states, had the greatest population growth among U.S. states between 2020 and 2022. Meanwhile, New York and Illinois, both blue states, and Louisiana, a red state, suffered the biggest population losses. California, another blue state, has experienced significant recent population loss as well.
I am a scholar who studies the intersection between politics, media and psychology. I think it is important to note that another trend, though, is that people are largely migrating to places with lower life expectancies.
For instance, people born in New York and California – two of the richest states in the country, which largely vote Democratic – have a life expectancy of 77.7 and 79 years, respectively. But people in Mississippi and Louisiana – two of the poorest states, which tend to vote Republican – live, on average, until they are 71.9 and 73.1 years old.
People who live in Republican-leaning states tend to have less money, worse health conditions, higher rates of gun-related deaths and lower levels of education than people living in Democratic states.
On average, people in red states have higher rates of poverty than residents of blue states.
But there are likely other issues at play in people in red states’ having lower life spans.
Research in 2020 showed that Americans in blue states tend to live longer than people in red states, primarily because of state policies on everything from seat belt laws to abortion laws. That research also identified health policies as a major factor.
Moreover, when looking at the rates of people who are diagnosed with cancer in each state, it is clear that people in red states are generally less healthy than people in blue ones. Red-state residents are also more likely to die from heart disease than people in blue states.
But health rates vary greatly across racial and ethnic groups. Black and Hispanic people are far more likely than white and Asian people in the U.S. to not have access to quality affordable health care, regardless of their state of residence.
Lower education levels
This matters, since some recent research has shown that education levels are the best predictor of a person’s life span for a variety of complex, interconnected reasons, including an increased likelihood that receiving a higher education will lead to a boost in income.
Experts also often consider race and ethnicity another major factor, in part because of structural inequalities facing people of color that may place access to quality affordable education out of reach, for example.
Lack of education may be the most direct reason for lower incomes and shorter lives – but it is not clear if attaining a higher level of education makes people wealthier, or if people who are born into wealth receive more and better education.
Are people moving to die young?
There are other reasons that factor into the complex question of life expectancy, and discrepancies in longevity across states.
People are moving to different states in the U.S. for a variety of reasons – including, in some cases, political ideologies. While blue ZIP codes have been found to be getting bluer, red ones are becoming even more red.
But it is important to keep in mind that data on life spans and health are simply averages, and so there can be a high variation within particular locations.
Thee are people in red and blue states who defy these statistics – many people living long lives in poor red states, and people dying younger in rich blue ones.
Still, the overall trends are clear. People living in blue states – by and large – tend to live longer, healthier and wealthier lives.
- ^ increasingly polarized country (www.pewtrusts.org)
- ^ long, healthy life (www.washingtonpost.com)
- ^ Democratic-leaning blue states to Republican-voting red ones (www.cbsnews.com)
- ^ all red states (wisevoter.com)
- ^ greatest population growth (www.axios.com)
- ^ recent population loss (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ high cost of living (www.seattletimes.com)
- ^ Georgia or Indiana (www.forbes.com)
- ^ studies the intersection (writing.ucsb.edu)
- ^ lower life expectancies (www.prb.org)
- ^ Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images (media.gettyimages.com)
- ^ large difference in expected life spans (www.cdc.gov)
- ^ richest states (worldpopulationreview.com)
- ^ life expectancy (www.cdc.gov)
- ^ poorest states (worldpopulationreview.com)
- ^ 71.9 and 73.1 years old (www.cdc.gov)
- ^ less money (www.moneygeek.com)
- ^ worse health conditions (www.scientificamerican.com)
- ^ gun-related deaths (www.forbes.com)
- ^ lower levels of education (worldpopulationreview.com)
- ^ On average, people in red states have higher rates of poverty (www.census.gov)
- ^ die younger (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- ^ primarily because of state policies (www.globenewswire.com)
- ^ higher rates of health insurance (www.kff.org)
- ^ cancer in each state (worldpopulationreview.com)
- ^ die from heart disease (www.cdc.gov)
- ^ quality affordable health care (www.kff.org)
- ^ Black people remain more likely (www.cdc.gov)
- ^ among other health conditions (www.cdc.gov)
- ^ lower levels of education (worldpopulationreview.com)
- ^ predictor of a person’s life span (news.yale.edu)
- ^ lead to a boost in income (doi.org)
- ^ major factor (www.kff.org)
- ^ structural inequalities (www.brookings.edu)
- ^ lower incomes and shorter lives (www.routledge.com)
- ^ by homicide and suicide (www.kff.org)
- ^ than blue states (www.cdc.gov)
- ^ red ones are becoming (www.npr.org)
Authors: Robert Samuels, Continuing Lecturer in Writing, University of California, Santa Barbara