Life expectancy at birth in the United States declined by 1.5 years from 2019 to 2020 to the lowest level since 2003, according to new provisional datapdf icon from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The drop in life expectancy in 2020 was the largest one-year decline since World War II, when life expectancy declined 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943.
The data are featured in a new report, “Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates for 2020pdf icon,” showing life expectancy at birth for the total population declined from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020. The report also shows the disparity in life expectancy between men and women grew in 2020 from 5.1 years in 2019 to 5.7 years in 2020. From 2000 to 2010, this disparity had narrowed to 4.8 years, but gradually increased from 2010 to 2019.
The decline in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 can primarily be attributed to deaths from the pandemic, as COVID-19 deaths contributed to nearly three-fourths or 74% of the decline. An estimated 11% of the decline in life expectancy can be attributed to increases in deaths from accidents/unintentional injuries. Drug overdose deaths account for over one-third of all unintentional injury deaths, and last week NCHS reported an all-time high of over 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020.
Other contributing causes of death to the decline in life expectancy in 2020 include homicide(3.1% of the decline), diabetes (2.5%), and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (2.3%).
Other findings documented in the report:
- Though U.S. Hispanics have longer life expectancy than non-Hispanic blacks or whites, they had the largest decline in life expectancy of these groups during 2020, a three-year drop from 81.8 years in 2019 to 78.8 years in 2020. Hispanic males had the largest decline in life expectancy in 2020 with a drop of 3.7 years. COVID-19 was responsible for 90% of the decline in life
expectancy for the Hispanic population.
- The disparity in life expectancy between the Hispanic population and the non-Hispanic white population closed significantly, from 3 years in 2019 to 1.2 years in 2020. The gap in life expectancy between the Hispanic population and the non-Hispanic black population barely changed between 2019 and 2020 – from 7.1 years in 2019 to 7 years in 2020.
- Life expectancy for the non-Hispanic black population declined 2.9 years from 74.7 years in 2019 to 71.8 in 2020 – the lowest life expectancy for this population since 2000. COVID-19 was responsible for 59% of the decline in life expectancy for the non-Hispanic black population.
- The disparity in life expectancy between the non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black population increased from 4.1 years in 2019 to 5.8 years in 2020. This gap in life expectancy had been narrowing over the past three decades, from 7.1 years in 1993 to 4.1 in 2019.
- Life expectancy for the non-Hispanic white population declined 1.2 years from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.6 years in 2020 – the lowest life expectancy for this population since 2002. COVID-19 was responsible for 68% of the decline in life expectancy for the non-Hispanic white population.