Life expectancy has become a popular measure for comparing different countries’ health-care systems. Keeping people alive is, of course, an important goal of medicine — and the fact that the U.S. ranks below dozens of countries has served as fodder for politicians angling to revamp the U.S. system. However, two economists have argued in a recent book that life expectancy is a lousy way to compare two countries. Murders, suicides and accidents can have a big effect on life-expectancy stats because their victims die younger, on average, than victims of disease. And, they argue, the health-care system can’t do much to prevent those kinds of deaths. After adjusting for those kinds of deaths, the U.S. ranks at or near the top of developed nations in life expectancy, health economists Robert Ohsfeldt (of the Texas A&M Health Science Center) and John Schneider (of Health Economics Consulting Group LLC) write in “The Business of Health,” a 2006 book published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank.

Does the U.S. Lead in Life Expectancy?