Death Can Wait: How Americans Are Living Longer

Death rates continue to drop and life expectancy has reached an all-time high.

ByABC News
December 16, 2009, 10:19 AM

Dec. 16, 2009— -- U.S. life expectancy has reached an all-time high as death rates continue to decline, says a new data brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to figures from 2007, the average American can expect to live to the ripe old age of 77.9 -- one month shy of his or her seventy-eighth birthday. Across region, race, and ethnic groups, death rates in the United States have declined steadily for the past five decades, the CDC reports.

Though this data reflects a decades-old trend, Ellen Meara, professor of health care policy at Harvard University, said that "looking at the continuation of this trend…I find it impressive is that it is continuing to move along at the same pace -- you would think at one point it has to get harder."

The death rate is now 43 percent lower than it was in the 1960s. Researchers attribute the decline to medical advances in battling heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke.

This news comes on the coattails of another report concerning life expectancy, released Monday by the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society. The report said that by 2050, average life expectancy may rise to 94 for women and 86 for men -- predictions that are three to eight years higher than what the government had previously expected.

The data brief, which was released Wednesday, drew on records from the National Center for Health Statistics' registration system to track death rates and cause of death by region, race, age, and gender.