Map shows where life expectancy is falling fastest in the US

  • Life expectancy has dropped by almost two years in the US since the start of the pandemic.
  • The national average decreased by 1.8 years in 2020, but some states saw greater changes than others.
  • New York took the biggest hit to life expectancy, and Hawaii was the least affected.

Average life expectancy in the US has fallen by almost two years, marking a change from the stability of pre-pandemic years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiles data on life expectancy based on age, gender and location in an annual report. The latest National Vital Statistics Report was published Tuesday based on data from 2020, the latest year with complete data available.

Compared to the national average life expectancy in 2019, the 2020s fell by 1.8 years – a significant jump from much smaller and sometimes positive changes in previous years. As of 2020, the average American is expected to live 77 years from birth.

The decline in life expectancy can be attributed to deaths due to COVID-19 and accidental drug overdoses, according to the report’s authors.

Life expectancy decreased in most developed countries during the pandemic, according to a separate report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Although the United States is not alone in this trend, Americans still have the lowest life expectancy among developed countries.

New York saw the biggest drop in life expectancy

Of all 50 states, New York experienced the largest change in life expectancy in 2020.

The Empire State used to have one of the highest average life expectancies in the US, but the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York particularly hard. The state’s average life expectancy fell three years, from 80.7 in 2019 to 77.7 in 2020.

Other states and territories that saw above-average declines in life expectancy include Louisiana, New Jersey, Mississippi, Arizona and the District of Columbia. All of these states saw their life expectancies drop by 2.5 years or more in 2020.

A handful of states remained stable

On the more stable end of the spectrum, Hawaii maintained a relatively high life expectancy of 80.7 years, down just 0.2 from 2019. New Hampshire, Maine, Oregon and Washington also saw life expectancy decrease by less than a year between 2019 and 2020.

Life expectancy figures are calculated based on mortality patterns during a given year, so “life expectancy at birth” represents the average number of years a group of infants would live if they experienced these patterns during their lifetime. The CDC report also includes life expectancy at age 65, which takes into account risk factors that affect the older population during a given year.

Peer countries to the US saw life expectancy rise

Although one might think that life expectancy declined across the board in 2020, some countries maintained relatively consistent life expectancy estimates.

Norway, Japan, Costa Rica, Denmark and Finland – all considered equal countries to the US – even saw their life expectancy increase as COVID-19 spread, according to the OECD report.

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