US life expectancy continues historic decline with another drop in 2021
Life expectancy in the United States took another hit in 2021, furthering a dramatic decline from 2020 that was the largest since World War II. After falling nearly 1.9 years in 2020, life expectancy in the US decreased another 0.4 years in 2021 as Covid-19 continued to spread.
Although the introduction and availability of effective vaccines were expected to curb US mortality rates in 2021, slow vaccine uptake and the spread of the Delta variant produced large surges in mortality.
With a brief exception in the summer of 2021, Covid-19 has consistently been one of the top three causes of death for the past two years in the US. In the decade before the pandemic, life expectancy in the US changed by an average of less than 0.1 years annually.
Changes to life expectancy amid the Covid-19 pandemic widened an existing gap between the US and other high-income countries. Among a set of 19 peer countries, life expectancy dropped only a third as much as in the US in 2020 and rebounded in 2021, with an average increase of about 0.3 years.
Life expectancy in the US fell from 78.9 years in 2019 to 76.6 years in 2021, now more than five years less than the average among peer nations.
This speaks about the life consequences of how the US handled the pandemic. What happened in the U.S. is less about the variants than the levels of resistance to vaccination and the public's rejection of practices, such as masking and mandates, to reduce viral transmission.
In the US, there was a disproportionate decrease in life expectancy for Black and Hispanic people in 2020. But in 2021, White people had the largest losses, with life expectancy holding steady for Hispanic people and rising slightly for Black people.
For this study, Woolf and other researchers from the University of Colorado and the Urban Institute analyzed death data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the Human Mortality Database and other international statistical agencies.
McPhillips, Deidre. “US Life Expectancy Continues Historic Decline with Another Drop in 2021, Study Finds.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Apr. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/07/health/us-life-expectancy-drops-again-2021/index.html.
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