US Life Expectancy Jumps, but There's Another 'Bleak' Stat

Life expectancy is now 77.5 years, but that boost hasn't recouped pandemic losses
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 29, 2023 9:55 AM CST
There's Good News, Bad News on US Life Expectancy
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/YakobchukOlena)

Fresh stats out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer some good news and some bad news in terms of our collective longevity. "The good news is that life expectancy increased for the first time in two years," the CDC's Elizabeth Arias, a co-author on the report, tells NPR, citing provisional 2022 data that shows the average life expectancy in the United States is now 77.5 years—a boost of 1.1 years over 2021. There's a gender gap as well, with life expectancy at birth for males in 2022 set at 74.8 years (an increase of 1.3 years over 2021), while life expectancy at birth for females was a longer 80.2 years, a 0.9-year rise in the same period.

That means that the gap in life expectancy between men and women fell to 5.4 years in 2022, slightly less than the 5.8 years logged the previous year, notes ABC News. Life expectancy increased over the past year for all racial and ethnic groups, with the American Indians/Alaskan Natives population seeing a 2.3-year jump, the Hispanic population 2.2 years, the Black population 1.6 years, the Asian population 1.0 years, and the white population 0.8 years. Now, the "not-so-good news," as Arias puts it to NPR: These rises in life expectancy only accounted for less than half of the loss felt between 2019 and 2021.

Essentially, whatever was recuperated over the last year in terms of life expectancy brought us back to the level seen in 2003, a "bleak" find that's "far short of what people had hoped," says epidemiology professor Jacob Bor of Boston University's School of Public Health. A big factor behind the loss in life expectancy over the past couple of years: COVID-19, the third-leading cause of death, trailing only heart disease and cancer, in 2020 and 2021. US life expectancy fell 2.4 years during that time, and gains seen since are mainly due to a drop in COVID deaths. A decrease in deaths due to heart disease, cancers, homicide, and injury over the last year also helped nudge life expectancy up.

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Scientists say the US is also lagging behind other developed countries on the life expectancy front. "We started falling, relative to other countries, in the 1980s and we have just fallen further and further behind," Eileen Crimmins, chair of gerontology at the University of Southern California, tells NPR. She notes that other nations better address certain issues that affect mortality, including gun violence and infectious diseases for which vaccines are available. "Other countries prevent them. We don't," she says. (More life expectancy stories.)

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