New government data has found that Americans’ life spans are getting shorter. Where life expectancy at birth was calculated at 79 in 2019, this dropped to 76.1 in 2021. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Covid was the main cause for about 50 percent of the decline between 2020 and 2021, and as much as 74 percent of the decline between 2019 and 2020.
The new figure marks the lowest life expectancy estimates since 1996 and is the biggest two-year fall in nearly a century. As our chart shows, the estimate today is significantly lower than the overall peak in 2014, when life expectancy at birth was 78.9 years.
While Covid is the main cause for the decline, it is not the sole reason. Unintentional injuries, which encapsulates those dying from overdoses and accidents, are also on the rise in the U.S., reaching peaks in 2021 and making up 15.9 percent of the total decline. Heart disease, chronic liver disease and suicide also contributed to the decline.
When breaking down the data into subcategories, further disparities become clear. Most notably, American Indian and Indigenous Alaskan people saw life expectancy rates fall from 71.8 years in 2019 to 65.2 years in 2021 - that’s 6.6 years in just two years. At the same time, Asian Americans’ life expectancy fell by about two years to hit 83.5.
The CDC’s new report is based on provisional data.