The average life expectancy in the United States dropped from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.8 years in 2020, a decrease of a full year. For males, life expectancy at birth declined to 75.1 years, and for women, life expectancy declined to 80.5 years.
Life expectancy declined considerably for certain ethnic groups:
- African American males: 68.3 years
- African American females: 75.8 years
- Hispanic females: 83.3 years
- Hispanic males: 76.6 years
|0 (at birth)||77.8||75.1||80.5||79.9||76.6||83.3||72.0||68.3||75.8|
What is life expectancy?
Life expectancy estimates the average number of years that a person of a given age can expect to live. It is a hypothetical measure and differs considerably by sex, age, ethnicity and geographical location. The most commonly used measure is life expectancy at birth, which is the average number of years an infant is expected to live if death rates at the time of its birth don’t change.
Life expectancy is generally calculated for specific groups of people rather than for the population in general. It is calculated based on a life table, which shows the probability of death, death rate and number of survivors for each age or age group.
What factors impacted U.S. life expectancy in 2020?
Deaths from COVID-19 were the main factor in the overall decrease in life expectancy in 2020. At the end of 2020, more than 3.2 million COVID-19 deaths were reported in the U.S., with the increase in deaths being impacted by disrupted medical and social services during the pandemic.
Other factors that impacted the decrease in U.S. life expectancy during the pandemic include:
- Forgoing health screenings
- Access to medical care
- Stress caused by job loss
- Eating poorly
- Drinking alcohol
- Drug overuse
- Long-term health problems caused by COVID-19
The effects of COVID-19 will likely linger for quite some time, which means that it could negatively impact U.S. life expectancy in future years as well.
What other factors affected U.S. life expectancy?
Despite the fact that the U.S. has some of the best health care facilities in the world, factors other than COVID-19 contributed to declining life expectancy in 2020. These include a rise in drug overdoses and alcoholism, as well as disparities among different ethnic groups, geographical locations and socioeconomic situations.
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Arias E, Tejada-Vera B, Ahmad F. Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates for January through June, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital Statistics Rapid Release. Report no. 010. February 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/VSRR10-508.pdf
Weiner C. What’s in a number? Looking at life expectancy in the US. Harvard Health Publishing. February 07, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/whats-in-a-number-looking-at-life-expectancy-in-the-us-2020020718871