News

Report: US Life Expectancy Declines for 2nd Year in a Row

A new research study, not yet peer-reviewed, reports that life expectancy in the U.S. decreased in 2021 to 76.6 years.

Published Apr 8, 2022

U.S. Army Spc. Jonathon Hyde and Spc. Casymn Harrison from the 1434th Engineer Company, Grayling, Mich., Michigan National Guard, prepare patient rooms at TCF Regional Care Center in Detroit in advance of receiving COVID-19 patients, April 9, 2020.....The TCF Center in Detroit has been converted into a 970-bed alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in partnership with the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Michigan National Guard.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Scott Thompson) (The National Guard/Wikimedia Commons)
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U.S. life expectancy dropped for the second year in a row in 2021, despite the use of vaccines amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. An April 2022 study conducted by researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Colorado Boulder, and the Urban Institute, analyzed provisional government statistics that showed that overall U.S. life expectancy is now 76.6 years — the lowest figure in 25 years.

This drop comes after life expectancy plummeted from 78.86 years in 2019 to 76.99 years in 2020, according to the researchers. The net loss of 2.26 years was the biggest one year fall since at least World War II, NPR reported.

Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor of population health and health equity at Virginia Commonwealth University, who was part of the study, said: "The finding that instead we had a horrible loss of life in 2021 that actually drove the life expectancy even lower than it was in 2020 is very disturbing. It speaks to an extensive loss of life during 2021."

We should note that the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, which means it is “new medical research that has yet to be evaluated and so should not be used to guide clinical practice.” The report analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the Human Mortality Database and other international statistical agencies.

The study states: 

Prior studies reported large decreases in US life expectancy during 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, disproportionately affecting Hispanic and Black populations and vastly exceeding the average change in life expectancy in other high-income countries. Life expectancy estimates for 2021 have not been reported. This study estimated changes in life expectancy during 2019-2021 in the US population, in three US racial/ethnic groups, and in 19 peer countries. 

It noted that even though the Black and Latino populations had bigger drops in life expectancy in 2020, this did not continue into 2021. Life expectancy among Latinos did not change significantly in 2021, and marginally went up in the Black population. In contrast, the life expectancy of white people, mostly men, declined slightly. 

Woolf argued that this overall drop is a result of how the government has handled the pandemic. “This speaks volumes about the life consequences of how the US handled the pandemic,” he said. “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.”

Sources:

Master, Ryan K, et al. "Changes in Life Expectancy Between 2019 and 2021: United States and 19 Peer Countries." medRxiv, 5 Apr. 2022. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.04.05.22273393v1%20. Accessed 8 Apr. 2022.

McPhillips, Dierdre. “US Life Expectancy Continues Historic Decline with Another Drop in 2021, Study Finds.” CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/07/health/us-life-expectancy-drops-again-2021/index.html. Accessed 8 Apr. 2022.

Stein, Rob. “U.S. Life Expectancy Falls for 2nd Year in a Row.” NPR, 7 Apr. 2022. NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/04/07/1091398423/u-s-life-expectancy-falls-for-2nd-year-in-a-row.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

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