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August 25, 2022

Mapped: US life expectancy in 2020

Daily Briefing

    In the United States, life expectancy fell roughly two years from 2019 to 2020—reaching its lowest average in almost 20 years, according to a new report from CDC.

    Report details and findings

    For the report, researchers from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) analyzed death rates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

    In 2020, the average U.S. life expectancy was 77 years, down from 78.8 years in 2019. Declines in life expectancy were observed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. New York saw the largest decline in life expectancy at three years, while Hawaii saw the smallest decline at 0.2 years. 

    According to the researchers, this dip in life expectancy was largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as increases in unintentional injuries, such as drug overdoses. Previously, CDC reported that there were 528,891 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, with Covid-19 contributing to 350,831 deaths.

    Across the United States, Hawaii had the highest life expectancy at 80.7 years. Other states in the top five were Washington, Minnesota, California, and Massachusetts, all of which averaged between 79 and 80 years for life expectancy.

    The state with the lowest life expectancy was Mississippi, at 71.9 years. The states with the next lowest life expectancies were West Virginia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Kentucky.

    The researchers also found that women continued to have a higher average life expectancy than men in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, women had a life expectancy of 79.9 years, and men had a life expectancy of 74.2 years. The District of Columbia had the largest difference in life expectancy between men and women at seven years, and Utah had the lowest at four years.

    Commentary

    Compared to other developed countries, the United States has one of the lowest life expectancies. For example, Japan has an average life expectancy of 84.4 years, Spain and Switzerland have average life expectancies of 84 years, and Canada has an average life expectancy of 82.3 years.

    According to Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at NCHS, the United States has usually seen a gradual increase in life expectancy over time, but the Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted this trend.

    "We really haven't really seen anything like this since the 1918 flu pandemic," he said. According to Anderson, during the 1918 flu pandemic, the average U.S. life expectancy dropped from 50.9 years in 1917 to 39.1 years in 1918.

    Currently, death rate data for 2021 is being finalized, and Anderson said that he does not expect it to be much better than 2020. "Mortality was a little higher in 2021 than in 2020, so we may see some additional declines," he said.

    "If Covid magically goes away, then we could see a big rebound," Anderson added. "That said, it's hard to know the long-term effects of the disease are going to be." (Ali, "Changing America," The Hill, 8/23; Knutson, Axios, 8/23; Gleeson, USA Today, 8/23; Mueller, The Hill, 8/23; Bendix/Chiwaya, NBC News, 8/22)

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