U.S. Life Expectancy Faced its Biggest Drop since WWII
Life expectancy declined by an average of 1.5 years in 2020 for Americans.
- By Shereen Hashem
- Jul 23, 2021
According to the CDC, life expectancy in the U.S. declined by a year and a half in 2020. COVID-19 is responsible for 74 percent of the decline in life expectancy from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020. This was the largest one-year decline since World War II, when the life expectancy dropped by 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943, according to NPR. The Hispanic and Black communities saw the largest declines.
According to NPR, for the black community, life expectancy dropped by 2.9 years from 74.7 years in 2019 to 71.8 in 2020. U.S. Hispanics have a longer life expectancy than non-Hispanic Black or white people. This community, however, saw the largest decline in life expectancy during the pandemic dropping from 81.8 years in 2019 to 78.8 years in 2020. Hispanic males saw the largest decrease. COVID-19 was responsible for 90 percent of the decline among the Hispanic community.
An increase in drug overdose deaths was also a factor in declining life expectancy. More than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020 which is the highest number reported in one year. In addition, other causes of death contributing to the decline were increases in homicide and diabetes as well as chronic liver disease deaths. The British Medical Journal conducted a study comparing U.S. life expectancy with 16 other high-income countries and discovered that in the U.S., the decrease in life expectancy from 2018 to 2020 was 8.5 times higher than the other countries.
"It is impossible to look at these findings and not see a reflection of the systemic racism in the U.S.," Lesley Curtis, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, told NPR.
Shereen Hashem is the Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety magazine.