Home / Articles / Life expectancy fell 1.5 years in 2020, the lowest since 2003. Here are the causes.

US life expectancy is at an 18-year low. The average life expectancy at birth dropped 1.5 years from 78.8 in 2019 to 77.3 in 2020. The decrease in life expectancy is primarily due to the increased mortality rate caused by COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC).

COVID-19 caused a decline in life expectancy in 2020.

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US life expectancy is an estimate of the future based on what is happening currently with the nation’s health. It’s a projection of the average age of death for people born today. The calculation is based on age-specific death rates reported in the year of birth. It is not the same as the average age of death that year.

The life expectancy decrease indicates that US health is decreasing. This is in large -part due to COVID-19. More people dying in a given year leads to lower life expectancies for those born the same year. The age-adjusted death rate increased by 15.9% between 2019 and 2020, according to CDC. Overall death rates in 2020 were the highest among Black, American Indian and Alaskan Native people.

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020, following heart disease and cancer. The pandemic caused at least 375,000 deaths during 2020, according to provisional death certificate mortality data from the CDC. Because COVID-19 can be misclassified as pneumonia or influenza deaths, the CDC says the coronavirus death toll is likely higher.

COVID-19 led to a spike in the mortality rate.

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COVID-19 impacted the life expectancy of Hispanic and Black Americans more than non-Hispanic white Americans. Black life expectancy decreased by 3.8%, dropping from 74.7 years to 71.8 years between 2019 and 2020. This was the biggest single-year drop on record for Black Americans since 2000.

Life expectancy decreased by 3.7% for Hispanic people, falling from 81.8 years to 78.8 years. The single-year decrease was the biggest since the CDC started tracking data for the group. Non-Hispanic white Americans had a life expectancy drop of 1.5%, falling from 78.8 years to 77.6 years.

Life expectancy fell three years for Black and Hispanic Americans in 2020.

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Read more about the health of Americans at the State of the Union in Numbers.

Weekly Provisional Counts of Deaths by State
Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates for 2020