Patrice Howard writes on white flags before planting them to remember her late father and close friends at “IN AMERICA How Could This Happen …” a public art installation in Washington, DC, in November. Led by artist Suzanne Firstenberg, volunteers planted white flags in a field symbolizing every life that COVID-19 has lost in the United States. Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images hide the caption
Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images
Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images
Average life expectancy in the US fell by one year in the first half of 2020, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Life expectancy at birth for the entire US population was 77.8 years – a 1 year decrease from 78.8 in 2019. For men, life expectancy at birth was 75.1 years – a decrease of 1.2 years from 2019. For women, life expectancy fell to 80.5 years, a decrease of 0.9 years compared to 2019.
Deaths from COVID-19 are the main driver behind the overall decline in life expectancy in the US between January and June 2020, according to the CDC. But it’s not the only one: an increase in deaths from drug overdose is also part of the decline.
“If you recall, there was a slight decrease in life expectancy in the last few years before the pandemic, partly due to the increase in deaths from overdose,” NCHC spokesman Jeff Lancashire said in an email to NPR. “So you’re probably contributing here, too, but we don’t know to what extent. COVID-19 is responsible for an estimated 2/3 of all excessive deaths in 2020, and excessive deaths are driving the decline.”
The group with the greatest decline were non-Hispanic black men, whose life expectancy decreased by 3 years. Hispanic men also saw a sharp decline in life expectancy, with a 2.4 year decline. Non-Hispanic black women saw a 2.3 year decrease in life expectancy and Hispanic women saw a 1.1 year decrease.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Black and Latin American Americans died from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates.
The decline in life expectancy was less pronounced in non-Hispanic whites: men in this group had a 0.8 year decline in life expectancy, while the decline in white women was 0.7 years.
Women tend to live longer than men, and in the first half of 2020 that margin increased: the difference in their life expectancy increased from 5.1 in 2019 to 5.4 years.
The report estimated life expectancy in the United States based on preliminary death numbers for January through June 2020. Wanting to assess the impact of the 2020 surge in deaths, the NCHS first published its life expectancy tables based on preliminary death certificate data. rather than final counts.
The authors point out some limitations in these estimates. For one thing, the data comes from the first six months of 2020 – so they don’t reflect the entire COVID-19 pandemic. There is also seasonality in the patterns of death, with more deaths generally occurring in winter than summer. These half-yearly data do not take this into account.
Another limitation is that the COVID-19 pandemic hit different parts of the United States at different times of the year. The areas hardest hit in the first half of 2020 are more urban and have different demographics than the areas hit by the virus later in the year.
As a result, the authors write, “Life expectancy at birth for the first half of 2020 may be underestimated as the most affected populations, Hispanic and non-Hispanic black populations, are more likely to live in urban areas.”
The report is in line with results released last month by researchers at the University of Southern California and Princeton University, who found that deaths from COVID-19 reduced life expectancy by 1.13 years overall.
More than 488,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States. The latest estimates from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation predict 614,503 deaths in the United States by June 1.
NPR’s Rob Stein contributed to this report.