Doctors and life expectacy

By Razib Khan | April 8, 2012 5:18 pm

A friend pointed me to the following infographic on the concentration of doctors per county. The orange represents “very high need,” and dark blue “very low need.”

Now let’s compare it to life expectancy by county:

MORE ABOUT: Medicine
  • Markk

    Sometimes pictures are worth less than just a few words. At first sight it looks like an inverse correlation there, but an actual table with a proportion or something would tell a lot more.

  • Razib Khan

    why don’t you go look for them? i have the life expec table, but i don’t know about the doctors (spent 5 minutes). otherwise, you should probably shut up.

  • Clark

    I wonder if that’s partially due to people in areas with poor medical care can still travel to the city and get reasonable care. For instance in Utah the orange areas probably have a local GP and then go somewhere else for appointments. So the number of doctors in an area may not correlate well.

    It’d be more interesting to see it broken down not by doctor but by emergency room issues.

  • Mike

    I have lived in rural area. Since most people die of chronic or post emergency conditions, they go to regional medical centers and are there when they die. Fewer and fewer get the good death of dying away from the tubes and machines.

  • simplicio

    Yea, I don’t really see much of a correlation either. Low pop. density places tend to need more doctors, which isn’t really surprising (not enough Joel Fleischmans in the US apparently). The South has low life expectancy (probably due to high obesity and prevalence of smoking). The two don’t really seem to overlap except by chance. Minnesota for example seems to have a doctor shortage, but a high life expectancy.

    Which makes sense, even in places with few doctors, its more of an inconvenience then actually dangerous. You end up having to wait a few extra days to get an appointment or you have to drive a few extra miles. Sick people are probably motivated enough to not let these things kill them off.

  • Glenn Osborne

    There are a lot of factors other than having doctors nearby that influence life expectancy, among them are income level, and lifestyle, and you will also notice that life expectancy is higher in areas where lots of people move to after retirement. If you have an area like certain parts of Florida or Arizona where there are lots of retired people from other places that brings up the average, because you don’t have that many people dying at younger ages because here are fewer younger people. Your life expectancy when you are eighty is going to be over eighty. We have a mobile population so a life expectancy map is no going to be as meaningful as it once was. A map that shows mortality from treatable conditions would be more meaningful when comparing it to a map showing where doctors are more scarce.

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    I don’t know but I’ve been told that, contrary to most occupations, doctors get paid more on average to work in low cost of living places like the Dakotas than in high cost of living places like coastal California.

  • sam

    I found data for Texas by county (primary care physicians per capita), cleaned it and plotted it up (… life expectancy vs number of physicians per capita looks totally flat.

  • Razib Khan

    #8, much appreciated!

  • Yacko

    Not to flame, but doctors per county probably isn’t that meaningful. Per capita per county would be better. There are still counties that are fairly empty compared to dense metro areas. Like the northern forest of Maine, Blue Ridge Mountains, parts of the Rockies and the desert southwest and the swampy areas of Florida, which may make up 40% of the state.

    Even that may not be meaningful. Perhaps a better measure for rural areas would be average distance to doctor and/or medical facilities, per capita, per county? I would think people are more likely to die if it is 40 miles to a doctor visit or 60 miles to a hospital, certainly in emergency situations, but also in terms of checkups and preventive medicine.

  • Tony Mach

    Sorry, but I don’t see much correlation.

    To me it seems like other factors are more important. It seems like living in what you call the southern states (with the exception of parts of Texas and Florida) is the highest risk factor for short live expectancy. Living in the east coast, parts of the west coast, the corn belt, the aforementioned parts of Florida and Texas plus a few other regions gives you higher life expectancy. But generally urban regions seem to have a more uniformly high life expectancy than rural regions , but I may be off (I am not from the US and my geography is not the best).

    What to look for? Food is always highest on my list for health factors to look for.

    Oh, I forgot, access to insurance and health care is a problem in the USA, so maybe income level will play a strong role here.

  • Razib Khan

    Sorry, but I don’t see much correlation.

    i didn’t say anything about a correlation. i was hoping someone would do what #8 did. your comment is irrelevant, because someone already did the leg work.

  • John Emerson

    The study linked below divides America into eight groups according to life expectancy: generic American, five groups with worse expectancy (Appalachians, reservation Indians, and three categories of black Americans) and two with better than average life expectancy (Asian Americans and *poor whites* certain counties in the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, and maybe Nebraska.)

    These are very rural counties, not terribly prosperous, comparable in many respects to Appalachia. It may be that low tobacco use is the whole difference (very sharp contrast with Appalachia). I also believe that many people make a principle of not overeating.

    I live in a low-doctor high-life-expectancy county, and few people go to the city to die. Most people reject heroic care. The county funds a hospice program which made it possible for my mother to die at home.

    This study doesn’t seem to mesh with the map, but a high proportion of the population of the Dakotas is concentrated on the Minnesota border.

  • Daniel I.

    #12, A correlation seems to have been implied in your initial post.

  • Razib Khan

    A correlation seems to have been implied in your initial post.

    no, it didn’t seem to be implied at all. your interpretation isn’t of any interest to me. long time readers know that i say what i mean. if i leave something omitted, i may have an opinion, but i omit because usually i don’t accord those opinions or impressions worthy of further examination. i actually aimed to do what #8 did, but got caught up in something off-blog (it happens). i was hoping someone would follow up and run a scatter on the source data, instead of just blabbering opinions (as one of the earlier commenters did).

  • Kirsten

    I would like to point out that if one goes to the original site and pulls the slide bar across to the left to look at primary care providers rather than doctor’s offices, the maps look much more similar. I am unclear as to exactly what the difference in measurements is… but it seems very relevant to this discussion.

  • Daniel I.

    #15 – My use of ‘seem’ was deliberate and expressed my reaction to the post. I don’t know how you can deny it seemed that way to me. I also don’t see how anyone could know you ‘got caught up in something off-blog’, but it seems #8 did a good job. Thanks anyway for the interesting post.

  • Razib Khan

    my reaction to the post.

    right, my point is that i’m not interested in reactions to posts. i’m interested in people either responding directly to the content (not their exegesis), or, extending the post (e.g., #8).

  • Luciano

    The hypothesis of no correlation seems robust across countries:

    Interestingly, it seems that there’s a slightly higher correlation with nurse density:


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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