Although American medical advances have been dramatic in recent years, at least some American women don't seem to be reaping the benefits. Recent studies show that life expectancy rates for many women have declined in the last two decades and that a sizable number of them are expected to live shorter lives than their mothers.
In one study, released recently by the journal Health Affairs, researchers from the University of Wisconsin discovered declining life expectancy for women in about 43 percent of the nation's counties. That research found that women age 75 and younger are dying at higher rates than in previous years -- many of them located in rural areas and in the South and West. Life expectancy rates for men, however, have stayed about the same.
One of that study's co-authors, David Kindig, told The Atlantic he had been shocked by the findings.
“So we went back and did the numbers again, and it came back the same," he said. "It’s overwhelming.”
Another report also found that life expectancy for women had stagnated or declined in 45 percent of U.S. counties between 1985 and 2010.
In both cases, the researchers have been unable to fully explain their findings, although some experts point the finger at obesity and higher smoking rates in rural areas.
Kindig told The Atlantic the reasons could be "cultural, political, or environmental, but the truth is we don't really know the answer."
Women in the Southeast seemed to be impacted most in the studies, especially in the states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee.
There also appear to be widening gaps between life expectancy rates in different areas.
In Collier, Florida, women live 85.8 years on average, while in McDowell, West Virginia, they live to be only 74.1. That’s an 11.7-year gap compared with an 8.7-year gap in 1989. Men live an average of 81.6 years in Marin, California, but only 66.1 years in Quitman and Tunica, Mississippi.
In general, life expectancy at birth for the overall U.S. population was 78.7 years in 2011 -- unchanged from 2010. Across all races and ethnicities, life expectancy for women -- 81.1 -- exceeded that for men -- 76.3 -- by nearly five years.