Black women with less than 12 years education can expect to live to age 74, up from age 73 two decades ago.
The researchers speculate that the least educated black women are experiencing high levels of obesity which has a latent, or delayed effect, on negative health consequences, while white women may be adopting more immediately lethal behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use.
"There are essentially two America's," said Olshansky.
One subgroup of the population is highly educated, doing well, and they are experiencing a dramatic increase in life expectancy, he said. Another subgroup of the population is less educated, doing very poorly, and experiencing a drop or only modest increases in life expectancy.
The researchers conclude that education and socioeconomic status are extremely important variables that influence variations in longevity. They suggest that one of the most important ways to address these large disparities is through lifelong education.
"We must find a way to bring these subgroups of the population back into the present," Olshansky said.
UIC ranks among the nation's leading research universities and is Chicago's largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.