Life Expectancy in the United States Plunged in 2020
The average life expectancy for Americans nosedived in 2020 thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study from the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I naively thought the pandemic would not make a big difference in the gap because my thinking was that it’s a global pandemic, so every country is going to take a hit,” Steven Woolf, the center’s director emeritus who led the new study, told MSNBC on Wednesday. “What I didn’t anticipate was how badly the U.S. would handle the pandemic.”
MSNBC’s Kaitlyn Collins noted that the drop in expected longevity was particularly pronounced among populations of color, which experienced disproportionately high fatality rates:
The new study used data from the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Human Mortality Database to measure changes in life expectancy between 2018 and 2020 among Black, white and Hispanic Americans. The available data did not allow the researchers to include Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaska Native populations in the comparison. The results were published Wednesday in The BMJ.
Between 2018 and 2020, the decrease in average life expectancy at birth in the U.S. was roughly 1.9 years — 8.5 times the average decrease in 16 comparable countries, which was about 2.5 months. The decrease widened the gap between the U.S. and its peers to nearly 5 years, but the difference is much larger among Black and Hispanic Americans.
Compared with white Americans, whose average life expectancy at birth dropped by about 1.4 years between 2018 and 2020, the average Hispanic American’s decreased by just under 3.9 years. The average lifespan of a Black American decreased by 3.25 years.
Woolf clarified that the drop in life expectancy is directly related to the pandemic’s enormous death toll.
“What the enormous drop in life expectancy tells us is not how long a baby born in 2020 will live but instead how high the death rate for the entire population was during 2020,” Woolf said.