U.S. Life Expectancy Tanks in 2021


Photo courtesy of Economic Times

Ryan Livolsi

The US experienced another decrease in life expectancy in 2021 which extended the decrease to two years in a row. Experts say it is due to a variety of factors hinging on the Covid-19 pandemic. The decrease has caused the national life expectancy to drop to 76 years, matching lows only seen since 1996.

Life expectancy is a calculated average that a person is expected to live being born that year. Life expectancy is highly depenedant on race, sex, age and geological location. The lifespan in the United States had been rising for decades but saw a decrease in recent years. In 2020 the United States saw a fairly significant drop in life expectancy that had continued into 2021. The first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic saw the average American experience a lifespan cut just short of three years. Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the N.C.H.S. told the New York Times, “Even small declines in life expectancy of a tenth or two-tenths of a year mean that on a population level, a lot more people are dying prematurely than they really should be.”


CDC Experts told WGAL “This drop will stand as the first two consecutive years of a declining life expectancy since the early 1960s.” In 2019, it was 78 years and 10 months. In 2020, the U.S. life expectancy dropped to 77 years and continued to drop entering 2021, settling at 76 years and 1 month. This low of 76 years had only been seen since 1996. While these drops are quite significant they are even more significant for racial groups like American Indian and Alaskan Native. Their initial life expectancy was already lower but experienced a substantial decline of more than 6 ½ years leaving it at 65 years. The life expectancy for Asian Americans are much higher than other racial groups but they experienced a 2 years fall making it now stand at 83 ½ years. 


These numbers are significant because it goes against an increase that has been occurring for many decades. Experts told The Guardian, “this severe decline can be attributed to a number of factors mostly relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, these factors may include: lack of access to quality healthcare, lower vaccination rates in recent years, and a large share of individuals working jobs that required work during the outbreak.” However, Dr Bullock told the New York Times, “There is no doubt Covid was a contributor to the increase in mortality during the last couple of years, but it didn’t start these problems — it made everything that much worse.” He continues to explain that the real problems are rooted in our society but Covid just continues to aid those issues.