Life expectancy for Americans drops amid COVID, largest decline since WWII

Marco Green
February 18, 2021

Life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year during the first half of 2020, a new report finds. "You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this". Arias said data from the entire year will be released in May or June, and finalized versions of 2020 data on mortality and life expectancy, which the NCHS publishes annually, will be released by the end of this year or early next year.

The study also found a growing gap between men - whose life expectancy fell to 75.1 years from 76.3 - and women, who experienced a slightly smaller drop to 80.5 years from 81.4.

The report comes on the heels of preliminary figures that have suggested 2020 will be the deadliest year in USA history.

Some of the decline can be attributed to common causes of deaths such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and lung disease, as well as overdoses.

Overall, the drop in life expectancy is more evidence of "our mishandling of the pandemic", Brawley said. "So they are likely contributing here as well but we don't know to what degree. COVID-19 is responsible for an estimated 2/3 of all excess deaths in 2020, and excess deaths are driving the decline". Black people now lag white people by six years in life expectancy, reversing a trend that had been narrowing the gap since 1993.

Between 2019 and the first half of 2020, life expectancy decreased 2.7 years for Black people, to 72. Compared to 2019, life expectancy for non-Hispanic Black people in the United States fell about three times what it did for non-Hispanic White people, by 2.7 years.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Black and Latino Americans have died from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates.

The gap between Hispanic and white non-Hispanic individuals narrowed, however, from three years in 2019 to 1.9 in 2020.

The NCHS cautions that its figures are based on provisional death counts in the first half of the year, so they won't capture the full effects of the pandemic and aren't adjusted for seasonal patterns that typically see more deaths in winter months than summer. It's the lowest level since 2006, the report said.

Deaths have also been increasing due to a rise in overdose fatalities. This half-year data does not account for that.

Another limitation is that the COVID-19 pandemic struck different parts of the different times in the year. From January through June of last year, that was 77.8 years for the entire USA population, down from 78.8 years in 2019.

As a result, the authors write, "life expectancy at birth for the first half of 2020 may be underestimated since the populations more severely affected, Hispanic and non-Hispanic black populations, are more likely to live in urban areas".

But the toll of the pandemic can not be understated with more than 347,000 dying due to COVID-19 previous year in addition to indirect pandemic deaths.

Hispanic Americans traditionally have the most longevity compared to other racial and ethnic groups in the USA, and provisional estimates show they still do. The latest estimates from the University of Washington's Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation predict 614,503 USA deaths by June 1.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

Discuss This Article