Air pollution has an insignificant effect on life expectancy?

It seems obvious that people who breathe filthy air would die young. Yet people in Shanghai live 13 years longer than those in poor provinces (source), which are presumably less densely populated and therefore might have cleaner air (but maybe they are breathing indoor smoke from coal used to heat?).

Another possibility is that people in Shanghai are being slowly killed by air pollution, but they’re so smart that their high IQ gives them a longer life expectancy to begin with. (Scientific American) Without the massive welfare state that the U.S. operates, it is tough for a person without a high IQ to move to Shanghai and thrive there (apartments are comparable in price to the most expensive U.S. cities; see Forbes).

There is supposedly a five-year difference in life expectancy in north versus south China due to worse air pollution from heating with coal in the north (source). But, again, how to square that with the 13-year boost in life expectancy in Shanghai, a city that is spectacularly polluted.

Mist or filth?

13 thoughts on “Air pollution has an insignificant effect on life expectancy?

  1. Being in a poor province out there means not having a toilet. Not quite the same as voting republican or having to shovel snow.

  2. Poor health care and/or harder living conditions, I would suspect, is a bigger influence than anything including air pollution. You went to Shanghai, where I would imagine people have better access to care and also whose work lives are very different from people in the provinces. Toil, disease and stress, tougher lives, and the rest. It has to be hard to get good data out of China regarding the differences in life expectancy between their showpiece city dwellers and the people in the sticks.

  3. That’s just the 800′ broken marine layer typical to Shanghai, not really smog seen else where in the country; after all it’s a city by the sea so the smog level would be at least 50% less than that of the inland cities.

  4. I have asthma, somewhat light. Once in a while, Beijing air gives me a slight burning sensation in the chest. But I can assure you that the ill effects are negligible compared to cigarette smoke, scented soap, perfume, chlorinated swimming pools.

    As other poster, I hadn’t really heard about Shanghai being severely polluted like Beijing.

  5. I read once that life expectancy is, on average, longer for Manhattan residents than the average American, despite the somewhat polluted air in New York. This was because Manhattanites spend far less time in cars, which have much higher lethality than air pollution. If that’s true, perhaps it holds for residents of Shanghai (who travel in subways and buses rather than in cars on rural Chinese highways).

  6. Poverty makes a huge difference. Life expectancy for men in the predominantly black Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood of San Francisco is fully 20 years less than in the rest of the city, and 5 years less than the nationwide average for black men. It doesn’t help that the Navy created a superfund site in the shipyards.

  7. Seriously? You expect that one factor taken in isolation will explain mortality patterns?

  8. Go look at the life expectancy map below for US cities. I set it up for Reno Nevada that has clean air and almost no pollution. It shows low life expectancy (68 years) in poor downtown neighbor hoods and long life expectancy (84 years) for rich neighborhoods in the Mt Rose area. I also looked at Phoenix data and several other towns and found the same relationship. So I suspect the long life answer is mostly driven by poverty rates in an area. Shanghai vs rural China data supports this.


  9. Air pollution makes people very measurably stupider and kills them earlier. American cities are still highly polluted. A sane society would work on banning cars and minimizing electricity usage for day-to-day life. Instead the plan seems to be to substitute electricity for liquid fuels, which solves nothing.

    Electric cars and public transit are not viable solutions. People need to walk and cycle more. Housing needs to be built so as to require less heating and cooling energy. If you like 75F in your crappy house with bad insulation, and you drive everywhere then you are making children in your neighborhood stupider because of the air pollution. (No I am not greta thunberg.)

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