Why is there greater variability in individual longevity in some populations than in others? We propose a decomposition method designed to address that question by quantifying the effects of population differences in the spread, allocation, and timing of the principal causes of death. Applying the method to the United States and Sweden, we find that spread effects account for about two-thirds of the greater variance in age at death among American adults, meaning that two-thirds of the U. S.-Sweden difference would persist if the two countries differed only with respect to within-cause variance among adults. The remainder of the difference is due largely to allocation effects, with the greater incidence of homicides and fatal traffic accidents alone accounting for more than one-fourth of the greater variance in age at death among adults in the United States.
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