The Decline in U.S. Life Expectancy

The Decline in U.S Life Expectancy

A study recently published by PNAS reached some startling conclusions: on average, life expectancy in the first half of 2020 fell by more than a year over that of 2019. A drop is hardly surprising, given the effects of the pandemic. But people are talking because of the dramatic size of that drop.

And there’s more to consider. What are the greater ramifications of this study’s findings? And what, if anything does a lowered national life expectancy mean to you?

Where the Drop Came From

The pandemic, number one. Not since WWII have we seen such a quick and sizable effect on overall life expectancy across the nation. From 79.9 years in 2019, the average dropped 1.13 years to 77.8 years. That is the lowest life expectancy recorded since 2006.

Other significant causes include drug overdoses and other similar “deaths of despair,” heart attacks, and other diseases associated with the outbreak.

Significant Racial Disparities

Of particular note in this study was the increased life expectancy gap between whites, African Americans, and Latinos. White Americans lost 0.8 years, Latinos lost 1.9, and African Americans dropped 2.7 years.

The study credits this gap to disparate access to quality health care, housing, and employment. In other words, minorities haven’t been able to get needed treatment for COVID-19 until it was too late. At the same time, they tend to have dense living situations and the kinds of jobs that would likely increase their exposure to the virus.

Experts are even more disappointed in this widened gap because of the narrowing trends observed prior to the outbreak.

The 2020 Drop May be Even Higher

This study pulled data from the first part of 2020, when the pandemic was just getting started. One can only assume that the average life expectancy figures will drop even further once data for the entire year is aggregated. We won’t know for sure for a few months.

But even if the number does drop more, things should start to look a little better from here on.

Calculating Life Expectancy

Basically, experts collect and analyze all deaths over a period of time, mostly in regards to each person’s age, race, and cause of death. A significant event like the pandemic is bound to have a similarly significant effect on the national life expectancy. This time, the already gradual decline noted over recent years made the effect even more pronounced.

For decades, life expectancy improved–thanks to diagnosis and treatment improvements for heart disease, cancer, and other major illnesses. But it has leveled out in recent years. This is due to an increase in the aforementioned deaths of despair, which typically include things like drug overdoses, alcoholism and suicide. Plus, there’s always the ebb and flow of homicides and accidental deaths.

The good news is that, as the pandemic becomes more and more contained, the number of deaths will continue to decline. For that, experts predict that life expectancy will eventually get back to pre-pandemic levels…soon, hopefully.

How Does It Affect Your Life?

Experts calculate life expectancy to provide a fairly accurate baseline of what people in a country can expect when it comes to when and how they may die, based on what their fellow citizens have experienced. It is also a good barometer of a nation’s overall health.

But it is not a predictor of how long everyone will live. It’s just an average. Plenty of people live long beyond that number, while others fall short. For the most part, your own decisions about how to live healthily–apart from any accidents, hereditary issues, or pandemics–are what determine your actual life span.

For more information about the data that affects your life, read the PeopleFinders Blog.

Image credit: Marc Bruxelle –

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