US life expectancy falls to lowest level in almost 20 years due to Covid-19

Deaths from the virus contributed to about 74 per cent of the decline

Average US life expectancy fell by 1.5 years in 2020, a sharp decline driven by the Covid-19 pandemic. AFP
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Life expectancy in the US fell by a year and a half in 2020 to 77.3 years, the lowest level since 2003, primarily due to the deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, a US health agency said on Wednesday.

It is the biggest one-year decline since the Second World War, when life expectancy fell 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943, and is six months shorter than its February 2021 estimate, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

“Life expectancy has been increasing gradually every year for the past several decades,” said Elizabeth Arias, a CDC researcher who worked on the report.

“The decline between 2019 and 2020 was so large that it took us back to the levels we were in 2003. Sort of like we lost a decade.”

Deaths from Covid-19 contributed to about 74 per cent of the decline and drug overdoses were also a major contributor, the CDC said.

The CDC's National Centre for Health Statistics (NCHS) last week released interim data showing that US drug overdose deaths rose about 30 per cent in 2020.

The latest CDC report is based on provisional mortality data for January through December of 2020.

Racial, gender and ethnic disparities worsened during the period, the report said. Life expectancy for black people fell by 2.9 years to 71.8 in 2020, the lowest level since 2000. Life expectancy for Hispanic men dropped 3.7 years to 75.3, the largest decline of any group.

Disparity in life expectancy between men and women also widened in 2020, with women now expected to live 80.2 years, or 5.7 years longer than men – six months more than predicted in 2019.

The data represent early estimates based on death certificates received, processed and coded – but not finalised – by the NCHS.

Updated: July 21, 2021, 6:33 PM