Also at Reason
In all, there are 29 countries whose citizens have longer life expectancies than Americans.
So why do Americans die younger than people living in most other developed democracies? Well, there is the Michael Moore answer delivered in his "documentary" Sicko—it's because we lack a benevolent government funded health care system. But life expectancy is not dependent on just medical care. For example, Texas A&M health economist Robert Ohsfeldt and health economics consultant John Schneider point out that deaths from accidents and homicides in America are much higher than in any other of the developed countries. Taking accidental deaths and homicides between 1980 and 1999 into account, they calculate that instead of being at near the bottom of the list of developed countries, U.S. life expectancy would actually rank at the top.
America's relatively high infant mortality rate also lowers our life expectancy ranking. A 2007 study done by Baruch College economists June and David O"Neill sheds some light on why U.S. infant mortality rates are higher—more low weight births. In their study, U.S. infant mortality was 6.8 per 1,000 live births, and Canada's was 5.3. Low birth weight significantly increases an infant's chance of dying. Teen mothers are much more likely to bear low birth weight babies and teen motherhood is almost three times higher in the U.S. than it is in Canada. The authors calculate that if Canada had the same the distribution of low-weight births as the U.S., its infant mortality rate would rise above the U.S. rate of 6.8 per 1,000 live births to 7.06. On the other hand, if the U.S. had Canada's distribution of low-weight births, its infant mortality rate would fall to 5.4. In other words, the American health care system is much better than Canada's at saving low birth weight babies —we just have more babies who are likely to die before their first birthdays.