Patterns of Health Risk

Life Expectancy: The Crossover Phenomenon

Life expectancy at birth has historically been shorter for African Americans than other Americans, but the differences disappear or reverse themselves at older ages, creating the “Crossover Phenomenon”.Closely related to the subject of differential life expectancy, the Crossover Phenomenon refers to the fact that both Black females and males who were 80 years of age or older in 1976 had a longer life expectancy than their White female and male counterparts.

Its name comes from the reversal in average life expectancy that occurs between Blacks and Whites between 80 and 85 years of age.See Table 1 above.

In 2002, Black males who lived to the age of 65 had a life expectancy of 79.6 years and Black women who lived to the age of 65 had a life expectancy of 83.0 years (AoA, 2004). The historical trends in the Crossover and possible reasons for it are discussed in Fund of Knowledge under Health History.

Table 1: Life Expectancy by Age Group and Race, in Years, 2004

Life Expectancy



At Birth 78.3 73.3
At Age 65 18.6 16.9
At Age 85 7.2 6.8
Source: Administration on Aging, 2004