Why Did U.s. Life Expectancy Down Again In 2021? What Were The Major Factors Behind It?

The COVID-19 pandemic once again played a large part in the decline, according to fresh CDC statistics.

Life expectancy at birth in the U.S. dropped to its lowest level since 1996 last year, from 77.0 years in 2020 to 76.1 years. The two-year reduction is the greatest since the early 1920s, officials added. The U.S. life expectancy dropped from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77 years in 2020.

Since 2019, U.S. life expectancy has fallen by more than 3%, with COVID-19 deaths accounting for 74% of the decline from 2019 to 2020 and 50% of the drop from 2020 to 2021.

Researchers linked 16% of the fall in life expectancy from 2020 to 2021 to accidental deaths. Drug overdoses account for almost half of accidental deaths, according to the CDC. National Center for Health Statistics data reveals 104,500 overdose deaths in the year ended March.

According to the research, heart disease, cirrhosis, and suicide contributed to the drop in life expectancy last year.

“The decline in life expectancy would have been even greater without the offsetting effects of decreases in mortality,” the report says.

The life expectancy discrepancy between women and men grew in 2021 to 5.9 years from 5.7 years in 2020, the highest gap since 1996. Male life expectancy at birth was 73.2 in 2021, down one year from 2020. Female life expectancy fell 0.8 years to 79.1.

American Indian or Alaska Native life expectancy dropped 1.9 years from 67.1 in 2020 to 65.2 in 2021. From 2019 to 2021, American Indian and Alaska Native life expectancy dropped by 6.6 years.

Whites witnessed the second-largest drop in life expectancy from 2020 to 2021, from 77.4 to 76.4 years. Black life expectancy dropped from 71.5 in 2020 to 70.8 in 2021, while Asian life expectancy dropped from 83.6 to 83.5. Hispanic life expectancy dropped by 0.2 years from 2020 to 2021.

The data suggests that the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color is narrowing or shifting. While whites’ life expectancy dropped 1.4 years from 2019 to 2020, Blacks’ dropped more than three years and Hispanics’ by four.

Whites’ life expectancy dropped more than Blacks’ and Hispanics’ in 2021.

Robert Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, believes this may reflect where the pandemic was most common in 2021.

Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and director emeritus of the school’s Center on Society and Health, says such shifts may involve differences in attitudes between white Americans and minority groups toward pandemic safety precautions such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and vaccinations.

Woolf co-authored a separate study last year that revealed white Americans had higher life expectancy reductions between 2020 and 2021 than Black or Hispanic people.

U.s. Life Expectancy Down Again In 2021
U.s. Life Expectancy Down Again In 2021

Woolf notes that despite early concerns about vaccine hesitancy, Black and Hispanic communities have been more inclined to be vaccinated, wear masks, and take other precautions in reaction to COVID-19 deaths and illnesses in 2020.

Woolf said sections of the country with more skepticism regarding COVID-19 and vaccines are primarily white, which has resulted in a bigger loss of life than projected.

Hispanics and blacks are more likely to get COVID-19, develop problems, be hospitalized, and die than whites, Woolf adds. Epidemiology cannot explain why whites die at higher rates, except that preventative measures may not be as popular among whites.

Woolf’s assessment also revealed how the U.S. fared in terms of life expectancy compared with other peer countries from 2019 to 2021. A separate New York Times analysis published in early February found that America had the most COVID-19 deaths per capita between the pandemic’s start and Jan. 31. The U.S. was the only wealthy nation with a death rate above 20 per 100,000 from December 2021 to January, according to the Times.

In 2021, when this new drop in life expectancy occurred, some countries regained much of their losses and several had a net rise. The rest of the industrialized world returned to normal as U.S. life expectancy fell. This shows the U.S. handled the pandemic poorly.

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