Life expectancy statistics in 2020 took a steep dive downward, largely because of the covid-19 pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control reported in December that the average person born in 2020 can expect to live 77.0 years. That is a drop of nearly two years from the 2019 figure of 78.8. It’s the largest one-year decrease since 1943, when the country was in the middle of World War II and a lot of soldiers were dying.
For men, the 2020-to-2019 comparison is 74.2 to 76.3, down 2.1 years. For women, it’s 79.9 to 81.4, down 1.5 years.
Covid-19 is a big driver of this decline, to the point that it ranked as the third-most frequent cause of death in 2020, trailing only the longtime fatality leaders of heart disease and cancer. But it’s not the only factor.
The CDC reported that 3.38 million people died in the United States in 2020 — an increase of nearly 529,000 from the year before.
However, covid-19 was the underlying cause of death for only 350,000 people. That implies that some or all of the 179,000 other deaths were from causes other than the pandemic.
One suspect would be the country’s ongoing struggle with prescription opioid addiction, which during the past decade basically put a stop to six decades of steadily rising life expectancy numbers. Another would be the continually rising rate of obesity, which brings a bundle of health risks with it.
Aside from covid-19, the CDC said that six of the country’s top 10 causes of death increased in numbers in 2020. Categories reporting more deaths included heart disease, “unintentional injuries,” strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and influenza or pneumonia.
Still, there’s no dodging the Covid-19 factor, which played the biggest role by far in knocking American life expectancy below 78 years for the first time since 2007.
For those who turned 65 in 2020, the CDC says your life expectancy also dropped by about a year, from 19.6 years to 18.5 years.
The most worrisome thing about the 2020 decline is that it’s larger than those reported by many other countries. The National Library of Medicine website has a chart of life expectancy changes among 37 countries, most of them in Europe. Russia’s decline was the only one larger than America’s.
Eleven of the 37 countries reported a life expectancy decline of more than one year, while the rates in 22 other countries declined by less than a year. Surprisingly, especially given the global impact of the pandemic, 2020 life expectancy increased in four countries: New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea and Norway.
Speculating about the recently completed 2021, there’s no reason to believe the life expectancy numbers in the United States will improve. Another 400,000 or more Americans died of covid-19 last year. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to avoid another steep drop in life expectancy. Right now, however, the obvious message is that too many people are dying.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal