The title refers to the fact that I am looking for Chinese life expectancy data by province, for 2010 (not 2000!) The reason is as follows:
[Update: Dennis Duke sent me the paper. The study actually covers the 1990s, although they claim the gap remains significant. Note that in 2000 the life expectancy gap between Beijing and Shanghai was 2.34 years. It is now 1.06 years. In my view this smaller gap may partly reflect a reduction in coal burning in Beijing. If so the problem here is partly the press coverage, which suggests the study applies to today's China.]
[Update #2: As far as I can tell (figure 3 from their paper) they are not claiming people live longer in southern China, they are claiming that coal burning prevents the northern Chinese from living much longer than the southern Chinese. Obviously their multiple regression approach is superior to this blog post, but I'm still a bit skeptical. The figure #3 doesn't look very significant to me. But then I'm an "outlier," who doesn't regard 95% as significant. Having said that, I'd guess that in the 1990s coal did impose a significant health cost, just not 5.5 years.]
[Update #3: OneEyedMan sent me a post by Andrew Gelman that had an almost identical reaction to figure #3 that I had, but much better informed. I'd encourage people to read his post. I agree with his conclusions, including the statement that pollution probably does kill, and that the paper was worth publishing given the importance of the topic. BTW, I no longer need updated life expectancy data, that's not the issue. Hence I unbleg.]
I have a hard time understanding that result, for three reasons:
1. The limited data I have suggests that life expectancies in north and south China are roughly the same, differing by perhaps a year at most.
2. Life expectancy in northern China is excellent in the wealthier cities.
2. There is some evidence that warmer places have longer life expectancies for reasons unrelated to pollution.
Let’s start with the third point, which is counterintuitive. After all, life expectancy in the Congo is much lower than Sweden. Yes, but when comparing more similar areas a surprising pattern shows up:
People live slightly longer in Mediterranean countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece == 81.3 years) than in northern Europe.
People live slightly longer in Australia than Canada.
People live slightly longer in Puerto Rico than the US.
Thus there is no reason to assume that life expectancies in northern China would “normally” be 5.5 years higher, and are simply held down to equality by pollution. In fairness the US tends to be a counterexample, with cold states scoring higher. However that may reflect ethnicity and poverty. Note that Hawaii comes in number 1 and California is number 3, suggesting the US pattern is very complex. (Mississippi is last.)
How about income? As far as I can tell the income in northern China is not higher than in southern China. Here’s some data I was able to find:
Overall the Binhai area of north China has about 35 million people and a life expectancy of 81.28. The 3 Yangtze River delta cities have about 40 million people, with a life expectancy of 81.65 years, only 0.37 years higher.
The two areas have very similar GDP/person.
You might say that the Yangtze delta is more “middle” than south, but it’s well below the Huai River that the study identifies as the dividing line between the highly polluted north and the south. The Chinese government had regulations discouraging coal for heating purposes south of that river, although I don’t know the details.
All of the articles I see discussing this problem seem to point to Beijing as exhibit number one of the effects of horrible pollution. But if it were actually true that pollution was taking 5.5 years off Beijinger’s lives, then without pollution they’d live to roughly 87! By comparison, Japan currently has the longest life expectancy in the world at 84 (excluding a few tiny countries like Monaco.) And Japan is richer than Beijing.
There may be bias in the data I gave you for the cities, as it might exclude migrant workers. But that’s still a pretty impressive set of life expectancies for the native born in cities that remain considerably poorer than big cities in rich countries. Note that health care has lots of problems in China.
So if the cities are biased, what do we know about the provinces? The table at this link for life expectancies in 2000 shows no tendency for the people in the south China provinces to live longer than in the north, once you remove the cities at the top of the list. It’s instructive to look at the 4 “H” provinces, which are stacked one on top of the other. Coal burning Hebei and Henan actually have slightly longer life expectancies than Hubei and Hunan, despite being slightly poorer. If there was a 5.5 year gap, which is HUGE, it ought to jump out at you when you look at provincial data.
Of course 2010 may be out of date, which explains my data bleg. This graph was based on data taken from China Statistical Yearbook, 2012, and shows 2010 data, but only in broad categories:
A few comments. Ignore the western half, almost no one lives there.
The coastal provinces have longer life expectancies than the interior, probably reflecting wealth differences. In the range of 75 to 77 years. The two provinces in the far northeast have relatively high life expectancies despite lots of coal. And they aren’t even on the coast.
The interior provinces that have lots of people are in the 73 to 74 range. Hard to spot the 5.5 year difference in this data. Chongqing is an urban province, thus a bit higher. Yunnan and Guizhou are poor and have lots of tribal areas, thus a lower life expectancy, despite being in the south.
What have I missed?
So is this widely reported study as flawed as Rogoff and Reinhart? No, I think it’s much worse. But then the paper is behind a gate so I don’t know their methods and data. Maybe this post is highly flawed. [Now that I've seen the article I should point out that it looks like a high quality piece of research. But that doesn't mean the "5.5 years" figure is correct. These things are very hard to estimate.]
PS. Even if the Chinese government lies about life expectancy, why would it favor the north? And if the Chinese data is wrong, where in the world did they find accurate data to do their study?
PPS. The four “H” provinces are just as confusing as America’s “I” states. Here’s how to keep them straight. Bei is north and nan is south. He is river and hu is lake. So Hebei and Henan are north and south of the Yellow River (Huang He.) Hubei and Hunan are north and south of a big lake. Hunan has spicy food; that’s how you remember the two “Hu” provinces are in the south. Beijing means northern capital. Nanjing means southern capital. Basically every single place name in China (AFAIK) has a mind-numbingly simple meaning when translated. China (Zhonggua) means “central country.” Meigua (America) means beautiful country. My spellings may be wrong
PPPS. I believe every country should be called Zhonggua, as we all feel our own country is central (except Canadians of course.)
PPPPS. In Taiwan, north is spelled “pei,” hence the location of Taipei.”
PPPPPS. Why do we need to know Chinese provinces? Because they’re as big as European countries. Does an educated person not know where France and Germany are? And don’t forget the location of the world’s 5th largest political entity, Uttar Pradesh, which has a population nearly half as large as the entire world in 1500.