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February 14, 2022

America's life expectancy, mapped

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    According to a CDC report published Thursday, western and northeastern U.S. states had the highest life expectancies in 2019, while several southern states had the lowest.

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    For the report, researchers from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) analyzed death rates for 2019, the last year for which complete data is available, for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

    Overall, the researchers found that the overall average U.S. life expectancy in 2019 was 78.8 years old, a slight increase of 0.1 years from 2018.

    The states with the highest life expectancies were mostly Western and Northeastern states. Hawaii topped the list, with the highest life expectancy of 80.9 years. The states with the next highest life expectancies were California, New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, and Colorado, where life expectancy also averages more than 80 years.

    In comparison, the states with the lowest life expectancies were mostly Southern states. Mississippi had the lowest life expectancy in the United States at 74.4 years. The states with the next lowest life expectancies were West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Ohio. Life expectancies in these states were below the national average.

    In addition, the researchers found that life expectancy was higher for women than men in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In the United States, the average difference in life expectancy between women and men was 5.1 years. Utah had the lowest difference at 3.5 years, while Mississippi had the highest at 6.4 years.


    Although the report did not discuss why some states had lower life expectancies than others, researchers offered some potential explanations for the differences.

    According to Elizabeth Arias, director of U.S. Life Tables at NCHS and the study's first author, differences in socioeconomic status may partially explain differing life expectancies. "When you look at the map of life expectancy, and if you were to look at a map of socioeconomic status—which includes poverty, education attainment—you would see that they would look very similar," she said.

    "Really well-to-do areas had really high life expectancies," Arias added. For example, Hawaii, which had the highest life expectancy in the country, also has one of the highest median household incomes, and just 9% of Hawaiians lived below the poverty line in 2019. In addition, many states with high life expectancies, such as California, New York, and Minnesota, had median incomes between $5,000 and $15,000 higher than the 2019 national average, Insider reports.

    In comparison, many states with the lowest life expectancies had relatively high percentages of residents living below the national poverty line. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mississippi, which had the lowest life expectancy, also had the largest percentage of people living in poverty in 2019 at 19.5%.

    According to Insider, other factors, such as higher rates of smoking tobacco, higher rates of obesity, and poorer access to health care, may have affected life expectancies in these states. "Mortality from the leading causes of death are higher in those areas—heart disease, cancer, stroke," Arias said.

    Notably, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was not included in the report. According to NBC News, a life expectancy report for 2020 will be released next year—and current data from other sources suggests that U.S. life expectancy dropped almost two years in 2020.

    "I'm sure [life expectancy in the United States is] going to look really different than what we saw in 2019," Arias said. (Arias et al., CDC National Vitals Statistics report, 2/10; Fieldstadt, NBC News, 2/10; Wilson, The Hill, 2/10; Kekatos, ABC News, 2/10; Michelson, Insider, 2/11; Tejada-Vera et al., National Center for Health Statistics map, 2/10)

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