U.S. Life Expectancy Fell by 1.5 Years in 2020, the Biggest Decline in Generations

Covid-19, drug overdoses and homicides drove longevity down; Hispanic men suffered largest decline


By Betsy McKay, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)

July 21, 2021


Life expectancy in the U.S. fell by 1.5 years in 2020, the biggest decline since at least World War II, as the Covid-19 pandemic killed hundreds of thousands and exacerbated crises in drug overdoses, homicides and some chronic diseases.


Provisional data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that American life expectancy dropped to 77.3 years in 2020, roughly the same level as in 2003, erasing years of hard-won gains in the nationís public health. It was the largest single-year decline recorded since 1943. It isnít entirely clear what caused the drop that year, when the U.S. was fighting World War II.


ďI myself had never seen a change this big except in the history books,Ē said Elizabeth Arias, a demographer at the CDCís National Center for Health Statistics and lead author of the report.


Life expectancy wonít recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, Dr. Arias and other population-health experts said, and could decline again if a new Covid-19 variant emerges that vaccines donít protect against, some said. The highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus has pushed cases, hospitalizations and deaths up again recently, particularly in parts of the country where vaccination rates are low.


The full toll of the pandemic has yet to be seen, doctors and public-health officials said. Many people skipped or delayed treatment last year for conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and endured isolation, stress and interruptions in normal diet and exercise routines.,,