For POLITICO: on the geography of U.S. life expectancy

In Politico, Nationhood Lab director Colin Woodard writes about the project’s latest study on the gaping life expectancy gap between U.S. regions

This summer Nationhood Lab has been focused on regional health disparities and earlier this month the project published a large data journalism package showing wide gaps in life expectancy between U.S. regions. On Sept. 1, Politico published a magazine length story on the findings by project director Colin Woodard, which became the most read story on the site the following afternoon.

The Nationhood Lab analysis revealed 3- to 5-year differences between the regions, a gap comparable to that separating the U.S. from Bulgaria, Libya, and the Philippines. The gaps didn’t go away when we parsed by race, urbanity, impoverishment, education or access to quality health care, but they did match the geographic patterns the project researchers previously found for diabetes, obesity, and gun deaths.

The Politico story — titled, less than ideally, “America’s Surprising Partisan Divide on Life Expectancy” — got hundreds of thousands of visitors, was picked up by Yahoo News and MSN, and made the prestigious Sunday Long Reads newsletter for the week. A columnist at New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor took up the story and Talking Point Memo‘s David Kurz plugged it on their site.

“The geography of U.S. life expectancy — and the policy environments that determine it — is the result of differences that are regional, cultural and political, with roots going back centuries to the people who arrived on the continent with totally different ideas about equality, the proper role of government, and the correct balance point between individual liberty and the common good,” Woodard wrote in the piece. “Once you understand how the country was colonized — and by whom — a number of insights into Americans’ overall health and longevity are revealed, along with some paths to improve the situation.”

Woodard’s last Nationhood Lab story for Politico — “The Surprising Geography of U.S. gun violence” — was the most read story of the year (as of mid-May at least).