An article from CNN says about West Baltimore:

the older black men were gone.

I asked 28-year-old Zachary Lewis about the absence of older men.


"There ain't no more 'Old Heads' anymore, where you been?


We hear about the absence of black men from families, but what happens when they disappear from an entire community? West Baltimore delivered the answer to that question this week.


As I walked through my old streets, it was filled with nothing but black young women, children and teenage boys. It was as if an alien spaceship had come in the night and spirited all the older black men away.

Obviously, a bit of hyperbole ("no more old heads", "disappear from an entire community", "spirited all the older black men away"), but is the general message supported by evidence? I couldn't find this thesis supported by other news sources, and don't know how to search the social science literature for evidence concerning this question.

Is there a relative dearth of older black men in West Baltimore?

  • 1
    Perhaps it is not only prison or death. Maybe those who got jobs moved elsewhere.
    – GEdgar
    May 4, 2015 at 15:00
  • This page has an interesting graph under one of the tabs. The raw data for that graph, if available, could probably be used to show the difference in age distribution between different races in Baltimore. I suspect that would shed light on the situation.
    – Oddthinking
    May 5, 2015 at 1:49
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    The exact place the reporter is referring to is (from property records) his (John Blake's) family's house at 2125 N. Pulaski Street, which they sold in 1992; the Shield family's at 2123, and Herbert's house at 2129. I wouldn't interpret his report as referring to a large area.
    – DavePhD
    May 5, 2015 at 16:54

1 Answer 1


Yes, this is true in some west Baltimore neighborhoods.

For example, in the Druid Heights neighborhood, there are few older men. Only 35 out of 1570 (2.2%) are men over the age of 64. Yet 195 (12.4%) are women over 64. (See page 2 here).

(The age data is not broken down by race, but 1520 of 1570 (97%) were black)

For comparison, in the 2010 census, 5.6% of the US population was men over age 64; and 7.4% was women over age 64.

For Harlem Park, only 130 out of 3800 (3.4%) are men over the age of 64. (3780 (99%) are black.) Yet 475 (12.5%) are women over 64. (See page 2 here.)

For Panway, only 10 out of 1380 (0.7%) are men over the age of 64. Yet 125 (9%) are women over 64. (100% were black.) Even looking at the entire adult (over 18) population, only 37% are men. Source

The news story refers to a specific place, adjacent the playing fields of Fredrick Douglass High School. ("I practically lived on the playing fields at Frederick Douglass High School, which became a focal point for the riots.") The Panway neighborhood discussed above would be about 300 meters to the west of the playing fields. The neighborhood actually containing the school would be the Mondawmin neighborhood. Mondawmin has a very normal 5.6% men over 64 years old (but 14.6% are women over 64). However, only 37% of adults (over 18) are male. See page 2 here.

enter image description here

In Baltimore, depending upon neighborhood, life expectancy varies by over 20 years. Even considering both men and woman together, life expectancy is below 64 years in the Druid Heights neighborhood (at the extreme left in the graph). At the extreme right is the wealthy Roland Park neighborhood. Source of image.

Even more extreme variation is seen looking at mortality rates for young and middle age adults in different Baltimore neighborhoods, in data availible from the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance

For example, for ages 25-44, the mortality rate per 10,000 was:

In "Greater Roland Park"
2013: 2.1
2012: 2.1
2011: 3.2

In "Greater Mondawmin" (which would include both Panway and Mondawmin)
2013: 29.3
2012: 38.1
2011: 41.0

In "Upton/Druid Heights"
2013: 34.2
2012: 49.3
2011: 51.7

Unfortunately, these mortality statistics are not broken down by race and sex, but Mondawmin, Upton, and Druid Heights are almost exclusively black neighborhoods. The person interviewed in the story (as well as the reporter who is speaking of his own former neighborhood) has good reason refer to "pine boxes", because an abnormally high number of people do die young in his neighborhood.

As far as the "big numbers" mentioned in the story, the violent crime rate per 1,000 is given by the same source by neighborhood:

In "Greater Roland Park"
2013: 2.3
2012: 2.0
2011: 3.7

In "Greater Mondawmin"
2013: 29.3
2012: 25.3
2011: 22.0

In "Upton/Druid Heights"
2013: 21.9
2012: 28.7
2011: 26.8

  • Are these just random samples of neighbourhoods from West Baltimore? (I have zero understanding of the local geography.) I am worried they look like they could have been cherry-picked and it isn't clear if the differences are statistically significant.
    – Oddthinking
    May 4, 2015 at 13:43
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    @Oddthinking I lived in Baltimore for many years. Someone from Baltimore would understand that the story doesn't mean that you slice Baltimore in half and the west half has this characteristic. These are cherry-picked neighborhoods near the high school mentioned in the story. There are neighborhoods in the east half that would also have this characteristic. Baltimore is very inhomogeneous.
    – DavePhD
    May 4, 2015 at 13:50
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    Life expectancy can be a little tricky to parse. It shouldn't be read as "Life expectancy is 64, so when you get to the age of 63, make sure your affairs are in order." It is greatly affected by the effects of childhood and young adult mortality.
    – Oddthinking
    May 5, 2015 at 1:46
  • @Oddthinking yes, I added a source which gives the mortality data by age bracket, for each neighborhood
    – DavePhD
    May 5, 2015 at 12:47

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