US life expectancy falls to lowest levels since 1996 due to COVID, drug overdoses: CDC

Life expectancy dropped from 77 years in 2020 to 76.4 years in 2021.

December 22, 2022, 12:01 AM

Life expectancy in the United States has fallen to the lowest levels seen in 26 years, new federal data shows.

Two new reports, published early Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, found the death rate increased 5.3%, from 835.4 per 100,000 people to 879.7 per 100,000 in 2021.

This means that life expectancy decreased in 2021 for the second year in a row to 76.4 years, down from 77 years in 2020, and is the lowest figure recorded since 1996.

While the drop of 0.6 years is not insignificant, it's smaller than the drop of 1.8 years that occurred between 2019 and 2020.

The authors of the report said the drop was primarily due to COVID-19 and drug overdose deaths.

U.S. life expectancy
National Center for Health Statistics

Men and women had roughly the same decrease in life expectancy, according to the data, with men seeing declines of 0.7 years from 74.2 years in 2020 to 73.5 in 2021. Meanwhile, women saw a decrease of 0.6 years of 79.9 years in 2020 to 79.3 in 2021.

Among racial and ethnic groups, death rates increased for nearly every group. Decreases were only seen for Hispanic and Black men, with nonsignificantly different rates for Asian men and women.

When it came to the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., they were largely unchanged from 2020 to 2021. Heart disease continued to be the leading cause of death in the U.S. followed by cancer and COVID-19, respectively, according to the data.

The only change was chronic liver disease and cirrhosis becoming the ninth leading cause of death, while influenza and pneumonia fell off the top 10 list.

For eight of the top 10 causes, the death rate increased, but the biggest jump was seen for COVID-19.

In 2020, the rate was 85 deaths per 100,000 Americans with the rate increasing to 104.1 per 100,000 in 2021, the data showed.

The report pointed to COVID-19 as one of the main reasons for the drop in life expectancy. There were approximately 460,000 deaths caused by COVID-19 during 2021, according to an April 2022 CDC report.

Drug overdoses were the other reason for the drop in life expectancy, according to the report out Thursday.

In 2021, there were 106,699 overdose deaths for a rate of 32.4 per 100,000 people, up from 91,799 deaths or 28.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 in 2020.

The authors noted that drug overdose deaths currently account for more than one-third of all accidental deaths in the U.S.

Senior couple sitting on bench in park
John Slater/Getty Images, FILE

From 2020 to 2021, the rate for men increased 14%, from 39.5 deaths per 100,000 to 45.1, and for women, the rate increased 15% from 17.1 to per 100,000 to 19.6.

The largest percentage increase was seen in Americans aged 65 and older, with a 28% jump from 2020 to 2021.

Many of those drug fatalities were due to opioids, particularly synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, the data showed, with a 22% increase from 2020 to 2021.