U.S. life expectancy nearly 5 years lower than other developed nations

A new study published in the BMJ sheds light on life expectancy in the U.S. and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Between 2018 and 2020 the average life expectancy for people in the United States dropped by nearly 2 years, the biggest drop since 1943 during the second world war. The U.S. now has a life expectancy 4.69 years lower than the other 16 developed countries involved in the study.


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According to the study, life expectancy typically varies by a month or two from year-to-year, which makes the 1.87 year drop from 2018-2020 so striking. 

The 1.87 year drop, in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was almost nine times greater than the drops in life expectancy for the other nations involved in the study.


Gap in life expectancy between US and peer countries

Image: BMJ 2021;373:n1343


From the study, the gap between life expectancy has been widening for decades due to widening health disadvantages and continued inequitable effects on minority groups. 

The drop was even more drastic among minority groups. Between 2018 and 2020, Hispanic life expectancy dropped by 3.88 years, and Black life expectancy dropped by 3.25 years, compared to 1.36 years for White populations.

The drop in life expectancy for the Black and Hispanic populations were 15 to 18 times the average when compared to the other nations in the study.


Change in life expectancy

Image: BMJ 2021;373:n1343


Life expectancy in the U.S. from 2010 – 2018 rose for men and women by 0.21 and 0.02 years, respectively. From 2018 – 2020, it decreased 1.5 years for women and 2.16 years for men. 

According to the study, for every COVID-related death, there are countless other communities that will experience the wider effects of the pandemic for years to come, with the impact on the average life expectancy in the U.S. remaining to be seen.