US life expectancy rose last year, but it remains below its pre-pandemic level

by Gabriel Martinez
US Life Expectancy

In the United States, life expectancy experienced a notable increase in 2022, extending by more than a year. However, it is crucial to emphasize that it has not yet reached the levels observed before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this development on Wednesday.

The upturn in life expectancy during 2022 can largely be attributed to the pandemic’s gradual decline. Nevertheless, despite this significant improvement, the life expectancy in the United States has only returned to approximately 77 years and 6 months, which is akin to what it was around two decades ago.

Life expectancy serves as an estimation of the average number of years that a newborn in a specific year can anticipate living, assuming that the prevailing mortality rates remain constant. This statistic holds immense significance as it provides valuable insights into the overall health of the U.S. population. It is worth noting that the calculations for 2022, released on Wednesday, are provisional and may undergo minor adjustments during finalization.

For numerous decades, life expectancy in the United States had exhibited incremental growth nearly every year. However, approximately a decade ago, this upward trend plateaued and, in some years, even experienced a decline. This stagnation was primarily attributed to fatalities resulting from drug overdoses and suicides.

Subsequently, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, leading to the loss of over 1.1 million lives in the United States since early 2020. This catastrophic event caused a sharp decline in American life expectancy, plummeting from 78 years and 10 months in 2019 to 77 years in 2020, and further down to 76 years and 5 months in 2021. Elizabeth Arias of the CDC aptly remarked, “We basically have lost 20 years of gains.”

The positive change observed in 2022 can be attributed to a reduction in COVID-19-related deaths. In 2021, COVID-19 ranked as the third leading cause of death, following heart disease and cancer. However, in the subsequent year, it fell to the fourth position. Current preliminary data for the ongoing year suggests that COVID-19 may end up as the ninth or tenth leading cause of death in 2023.

Nevertheless, the United States faces additional challenges, including a surge in drug overdose deaths and suicides. In the previous year, suicides reached an all-time high, with the national suicide rate registering the highest levels since 1941, according to a secondary CDC report issued on the same day. Furthermore, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. witnessed a slight increase in the past year, following two significant spikes at the onset of the pandemic. Additionally, estimates indicate that the overdose death toll continued to rise during the initial six months of the current year.

It is noteworthy that U.S. life expectancy remains lower than that of many other countries, and its rebound has been comparatively slower than in nations such as France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden. While experts like Steven Woolf from Virginia Commonwealth University anticipate a return to pre-pandemic life expectancy levels, they caution that this should not be seen as an ideal situation.

Additional insights from the report include the increase in life expectancy for both men and women across all racial and ethnic groups. COVID-19’s decline was responsible for 84% of the rise in life expectancy, with a reduction in heart disease deaths contributing approximately 4% to this increase. However, it is important to note that heart disease deaths also increased during the COVID-19 era, contributing to many pandemic-related fatalities.

Furthermore, changes in life expectancy exhibited variations across different racial and ethnic groups. Hispanic Americans and American Indians and Alaska Natives experienced a rise of over two years in life expectancy in 2022. Black life expectancy increased by more than 1 1/2 years, Asian American life expectancy by one year, and white life expectancy by about 10 months. These changes must be understood in relative terms, as Hispanic Americans and Native Americans bore a more significant initial impact during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, with their life expectancies declining substantially in preceding years. Mark Hayward, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, noted, “A lot of the large increases in life expectancy are coming from the groups that suffered the most from COVID.”

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about US Life Expectancy

What does the rise in US life expectancy in 2022 signify?

The increase in US life expectancy in 2022 suggests an improvement in public health, primarily due to a decline in COVID-19-related deaths.

How does the 2022 life expectancy compare to pre-pandemic levels?

While life expectancy saw a substantial increase in 2022, it has not yet returned to the levels observed before the COVID-19 pandemic, lingering at approximately 77 years and 6 months.

What factors contributed to the improvement in life expectancy in 2022?

The major contributor to the rise in life expectancy in 2022 was the reduction in COVID-19 deaths, which drove 84% of the overall increase. A decrease in heart disease deaths also played a role.

What challenges does the US still face despite the improvement in life expectancy?

The United States continues to grapple with issues such as a high rate of suicides and drug overdose deaths, which pose significant public health challenges.

How did different racial and ethnic groups fare in terms of life expectancy in 2022?

Life expectancy increased for all racial and ethnic groups in 2022, with some experiencing more substantial gains. Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives saw the most significant improvements, while others also exhibited positive changes.

Is the US life expectancy rebounding at the same rate as other countries?

No, the rebound of life expectancy in the United States has been slower compared to some other nations like France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden, which have seen quicker recoveries.

What is the importance of life expectancy as a health indicator?

Life expectancy is a crucial measure of a population’s overall health, providing insights into the well-being and mortality rates of a nation’s residents. It serves as a vital statistic for public health assessment.

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ExpertInsights December 2, 2023 - 10:48 pm

gr8 breakdown of the data, shows imp issues like suicide & overdose, but US has wrk to do

HealthNerd99 December 3, 2023 - 5:06 am

CDC always on the grind, nce to c detaled info on dis topic, thx for the ref links too!

Reader123 December 3, 2023 - 1:32 pm

this artcl is so informative, it’s cool to c how life expctncy in the US is changin afta covid, gd job!


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