Jessica Lilly Published

McDowell Men Have Shortest Life Expectancy, Women Second Shortest in U.S.


The life expectancy for American females is 81 years.

In West Virginia, Marshall County has the longest life expectancy for women, with 80 years, while those in McDowell deal with about 6 years shorter life span.

The life expectancy for American males is about 76 years.

For West Virginian men, the longest life expectancy is also 76 years in Monongalia County and once again, McDowell County men have the shortest life expectancy in the state at 66 years.

Those numbers also rank McDowell County on a national level … women have the second shortest life expectancy while McDowell men have the  shortest life expectancy than any other county in the entire country.

Congress Holds a Hearing on Life Expectancy

The report, ‘Left Behind: Widening Disparities for Males and Females in US county Life Expectancy,’ was released in July. Although the average life expectancy for the country increased, the study showed that there are pockets of communities across the country that are dying much younger.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont hosted a hearing to highlight the new report that says Americans living in some neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than people living in Ethiopia and Sudan.

Sabrina Shrader shared her story of growing in ‘holler’ in the small town called Twin Branch in McDowell County. She was invited to speak at a hearing with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions after McDowell County was listed  to have the shortest life expectancy for men and second lowest for women in the country.

“I have had family members, friends and classmates all die young,” Shrader said. “This past year both of my stepsisters died.”


Sabrina Shrader grew up in McDowell County.

“It was kind of heartbreaking to hear that just because you are from a certain place you are likely to die young,” Shrader said after returning from the hearing.

Analysis: Behavior, Health Care, Education, Income All Play a Factor

McDowell County has suffered major job loss and mass exodus of people after many coal mines closed. In 1950 there were close to 100,000 people. The population has plunged to about 21,000 in 2012.

The median household income in McDowell County between 2007-2011 was about $22,000; far less than the national median of about $53,000 and even West Virginia’s median, $40,000.

Dr. David Kindig with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, has studied and mapped population health for decades. He joined Shrader to speak with federal lawmakers on this issue.

“Health is produced by many factors including medical care and health behaviors but equally importantly or more importantly issues like income education the structure of our neighborhoods as my colleagues have been showing,” Kindig said.

The common theme across the panel seemed to focus on education and income.

“The bottom line is that we will not improve our poor health performance unless we balance our financial and policy investments across this whole portfolio of factors.”