Mar 3, 2011
In the United States, life expectancy at age 55 (average number of additional years lived beyond 55) for Jews is 27.7. This is two to seven years longer than any other large religious group in the United States. Three possible explanations for this advantage are: favorable socio-demographic composition, better health behaviors, and relatively frequent attendance at religious services.
Most of the life expectancy advantage for Jews can be explained by favorable socio-demographic composition relative to other religious groups. Jews, on average, have higher levels of education and higher levels of wealth than members of other religious groups do. They also are less likely to be current smokers than those in other religions, so health behaviors explain some of the advantage. Conversely, attendance at religious services, a well-known protector against mortality, is unusually low for Jews. Thus, the life expectancy advantage is mostly attributable to education and wealth, somewhat to health behaviors, and not at all due to attendance at religious services.
Allison Sullivan is a doctoral candidate in demography at the University of Pennsylvania.