An August report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the average life expectancy in the United States dropped 0.9 years in 2021.
“In 2021, life expectancy at birth was 76.1, declining by 0.9 year from 77.0 in 2020,” states the report.
The study, Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates for 2021, was published on Aug. 31 and was written by Elizabeth Arias, Ph.D., Betzaida Tejada-Vera, M.S., Kenneth D. Kochanek, M.A., and Farida B. Ahmad, M.P.H.
The authors define “life expectancy at birth” as “the average number of years a group of infants would live, if they were to experience throughout life the age-specific death rates prevailing during a period.”
According to the report, life expectancy at birth in 2021 was 76.1 years. More specifically,73.2 years for men, and 79.1 years for women.
This represents a decrease from two years ago across all three categories. In 2020, life expectancy at birth was 77 years in total, 74.2 years and 79.9 years for men and women, respectively.
Overall, the United States saw a “decline in life expectancy between 2019 and 2021 of 2.7 years for the total population, 3.1 years for males, and 2.3 years for females,” the report states.
The current gap in life expectancy between both sexes currently stands at 5.9 years in 2021. This is the highest it has been since it was a 6-year gap in 1996.
The authors attribute the “excess deaths” over this time period to “COVID-19 and other causes.”
As the report explains, “increases or decreases in life expectancy represent the sum of positive and negative contributions of cause-specific death rates.” Therefore, “declines in cause-specific mortality contribute to increases in life expectancy, while increases contribute to decreases in life expectancy.”
As a result, life expectancy will decline over the course of a year if “the negative contributions are greater than the positive contributions.”
The particular 0.9-year decrease in life expectancy at birth from 2020 to 2021 was due to “COVID-19 (50.0% of the negative contributions), unintentional injuries (15.9%), heart disease (4.1%), chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (3.0%), and suicide (2.1%),” according to the report.
The authors note, however, that the decline in life expectancy would have been far greater were it not for a decline in deaths caused by “influenza and pneumonia (38.5%), chronic lower respiratory diseases (28.8%), Alzheimer’s disease (18.3%), perinatal conditions (6.3%), and Parkinson disease (2.3%).”
Notable changes in cause-specific death rates include a 19.1% increase in unintentional injuries and 3.6% increase in suicides for men.
During the same year, 2021, “women saw a 14.8% increase in unintentional injuries and a 44.3% in influenza and pneumonia.”
Reporting from MRC.