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Affluent educated Asians in America


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Life expectancy in Hong Kong is 85.3, which is the highest in the world. The US comes in at 79.1, which is well down the list.

But one group within the US exceeds even Hong Kong residents in life expectancy. Asian-Americans have a life expectancy of 85.7. Of course there are many types of Asian Americans, and I suspect that life expectancy within that group varies by class. More specifically, I suspect that highly educated Asian Americans have a life expectancy that is absolutely off the charts. (Let me know if anyone has data on that question.)

I recently ran across the following graph in the Orange County Register:

Orange County doesn’t have any poor towns (Laguna Woods is a retirement village), but it is split between upper middle class and working class towns. Focus for a moment on the three biggest towns, affluent Irvine and working class Anaheim and Santa Ana. Notice that the Covid death rate is 6 times higher in the two working class towns. That’s a lot, especially, considering that the age profile is fairly similar. And while the income difference is substantial, it’s not exactly gigantic. So what’s going on?

When I first moved to the OC, I was struck by the fact that Irvine seemed like a sort of paradise. It’s a rather boring place, but everything there is kind of perfect. Irvine also stands out in that it’s roughly 50% Asian, an unusually high percentage for such a large suburb. I suspect that its demographics have something to do with its unusually low Covid death rate (quite similar to the low Covid death rates observed in . . . you guessed it . . . East Asia.)

On the other hand, Westminister is also roughly 50% Asian, and has a relatively high Covid death rate, similar to Santa Ana and Anaheim, which are heavily Hispanic. BTW, the life expectancy of America’s Hispanics is higher than for whites.

So what’s going on here? Westminister’s Asians are mostly Vietnamese while Irvine’s tend to be Chinese, but can this actually explain such a large difference? I suspect that class plays a role. Irvine’s Asians tend to be highly educated professionals, whereas Westminister is more working class and small business.

This website suggests that Asian Americans living in states like Massachusetts and New Jersey have an unusually high life expectancy, roughly 89 years. Asians in those states tend to work in fields like science and finance. The estimated life expectancy of Asian females in Massachusetts (91.6) is the highest I’ve ever seen for any group. This estimate may be biased due to various factors, but it’s also likely measuring something real. (Full disclosure, my Chinese-American wife worked in Boston’s biotech industry–so I’m very familiar with their lifestyle.)

Some of the Asian American advantage is likely due to factors such as lower rates of obesity. But I also suspect that the same cultural attitudes that allowed highly educated Asians to live longer even before Covid, contributed to higher rates of vaccination, mask wearing, social distancing, etc.

Irvine also has geographical advantages. During Covid, it was possible to dine outside almost year around. When I moved here from Boston, I found the grocery stores here to be dramatically less crowded. In Boston, you must squeeze between shoppers. At a Gelson’s in Irvine, you can shop for 30 minutes in a spacious grocery store and never come close to another person, even when going though the self checkout.

All this leads me to believe that America’s relatively low life expectancy has nothing to do with our health care system. (I believe our system is awful, but mostly because it is absurdly expensive, and is a (the?) primary cause of slow growth in median real incomes.) Indeed the high quality of our hospitals might help to explain why our Asians live even longer than Asians in East Asia.

Instead, America’s low life expectancy seems to be due to lifestyle choices.

PS. Orange County’s Covid death rate (236) is a bit below California’s 250 and well below the national figure of 339.

PPS. Westminister’s Asians lean Republican and Irvine’s lean Democratic.

PPPS. I wonder if our federal bureaucrats are working for Trump:

A federal agency may look to ban gas stoves over concern about the release of pollutants that can cause health and respiratory problems, according to a new report.

A ban on gas stoves would cause America’s Asian American community to shift over to the GOP.


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