When we reported on the place with the lowest life expectancy in the country — a small Cherokee Nation town in the Ozark foothills once known for its strawberries — local readers made their priorities clear: They wanted to hear more about the Maryland neighborhoods where residents can expect to live longer than almost anybody else in the country.
We dug back into the data set and found two Montgomery County neighborhoods where life expectancy climbs into the mid-90s. We also examined why Greater D.C. has a life-expectancy gap of almost 33 years, the second-largest of any metro area in the country. Only New York City, with three times as many residents, is higher.
The longest life expectancy in the area can be found in the neighborhood around Friendship Village. Pressing up against the D.C. boundary near the Friendship Heights Metro, it’s small, dense and relatively diverse. It’s home to substantial Asian and Hispanic populations (both above 10 percent) in addition to the white majority.
Folks there can expect to live about 96.1 years, far above the national average of 78.8 and good enough for a statistical tie for first — well within the margin of error of the one neighborhood in the U.S. with a longer average life span (more on that later).
Another neighborhood in the area also ranks in the top four nationwide. It stretches along the Potomac River from Cabin John through Glen Echo to the D.C. boundary. Its highly educated, largely white residents claim a median income in the top 10 percent nationally and enjoy an average life expectancy of 93.6 years.
These figures come from a three-year effort to analyze death records in more than 65,000 U.S. Census tracts led by the National Center for Health Statistics, the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information. Census tracts are neighborhood-sized geographic subdivisions that contain an average of about 4,500 people.
The foundation created an interactive search where you can check their own neighborhoods. For best results, enter a full street address below.
Because they’re averages that represent the typical life of a person who died in a place, the group’s calculations account for all the moves, marriages and medications that the typical resident accumulates throughout their lifetime.
When you highlight the long-lived folks in suburban Maryland, it becomes even harder to ignore that, just 10 miles away, there are neighborhoods where residents are expected to live three decades less. About 71 percent of D.C.-area neighborhoods have life expectancy above the national average, but those that don’t include some of the least privileged neighborhoods in the entire country.
The 21 tracts with the lowest life expectancy in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area are all in D.C. itself, concentrated south and east of the Anacostia River.
Several demographic forces move in tandem with this concentration. Both the longest-lived Maryland neighborhoods are in the top 10 percent for college-educated residents and for fewest residents living below the poverty line, while almost the opposite is true of the neighborhoods with the lowest life expectancy. That encapsulates the trend nationwide, as higher levels of college education and lower poverty rates tend to correlate with a longer life expectancy.
In the D.C. area and much of the southern U.S., there’s also an inverse relationship between life expectancy and the size of the local African American population. Nationally, black Americans face lower life expectancy than their white, Hispanic or Asian peers.
The residents of the area around Barry Farm, about 97 percent of them black, can expect to live an average of just 63.2 years. The neighborhood’s African American heritage stretches back to 1867, when the Barrys sold the land around what is now the Anacostia metro station to the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. The Freedmen’s Bureau sold it, acre-by-acre, to freed slaves and other African Americans.
The death-rate data used in the study was collected between 2010 and 2015, and thus will not fully reflect the recent depopulation of Barry Farm’s public housing complex in advance of its controversial redevelopment.
Residents there are fighting to keep their homes, even as demolition progresses. “How do you take human lives that have become deeply rooted in a community and start moving them around like a potted plant?” Barry Farm resident Paulette Matthews said at a recent meeting of the Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Association chronicled by Post columnist Courtland Milloy.
The second-shortest life expectancy in the city can be found in another overwhelmingly black neighborhood in Northeast Washington around Lincoln Heights. Folks there can expect to live an average of 65.5 years — three decades less than the residents of the neighborhood in Friendship Heights we described earlier.
The neighborhood with the longest life expectancy in the entire country, in case you were wondering, is around Fearrington Village, North Carolina — a well-to-do planned community that aspires to mimic an English village in Chatham County south of Chapel Hill. People there, 96 percent of whom are white, can expect to live an average of 97.5 years.
To be sure, that may be a quirk of the data. The age of a neighborhood’s residents doesn’t influence its life expectancy much, but the median age in that part of Fearrington is 65 — easily the highest of any of the longest-lived communities in the country. It suggests folks don’t move there until they’ve survived the dangers faced by young and working-age people. If they were going to die early, they would have done it elsewhere and driven down the expectancy in that neighborhood instead.
Wisconsin, Maine and some neighborhoods with insufficient data weren’t included in the study, but Donald Schwarz, a senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said researchers plan to update the study regularly.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the location of Lincoln Heights. It’s in Northeast Washington D.C.