Decline was roughly 3 years among Blacks, Hispanics

Americans are dying sooner today than they were 2 years ago, and the pandemic can lay claim to most of the blame for the shortened lifespan—a worldwide scourge that claimed more than 4.1 million deaths worldwide, with the largest share of them occurring in the U.S. where Covid-19 deaths top 625,000.

In 2020, overall life expectancy in the U.S. declined by a year and a half, to 77.3 years from 78.8 years in 2019, the largest single-year drop in close to 80 years, according to investigators with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The single-year decline among Blacks was close to double that, with life expectancy dropping by 2.9 years, from 74.7 years in 2019 to 71.8 years in 2020.

The decline among Hispanics was even larger at 3 years, and life expectancy among Whites declined by 1.2 years.

In the provisional report, published this week in the CDC’s Vital Statistics Rapid Release, Elizabeth Arias, PhD, and colleagues with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) noted that while the life expectancy gap between Whites and Blacks has been narrowing during the past three decades—from 7.1 years in 1993 to 4.1 years in 2019—the 2020 single-year increase reversed this trend.

“The last time the gap in life expectancy between the White and Black populations was this large was in 1999,” they wrote.

Among Hispanics, who have had longer life expediencies than Whites or Blacks in prior years, life expectancy declined in 2020 by 3 years, from 81.8 years to 78.8 years.

Covid-19 was the largest contributor to life expectancy declines by a wide margin, accounting for 90% of the decline among Hispanics, close to 68% of the decline among Whites and 59% of the decline among Black populations.

Drug overdose deaths were the largest contributor to unintentional injuries, which accounted for 14.2% of the life expectancy decline among Whites, close to 12% of the decline among Blacks and 4.2% of the decline among Hispanics, the researchers noted.

Last week, the NCHS reported that drug overdose deaths in the United States increased by 29.4% in 2020 to an estimated 93,331, including 69,710 deaths involving opioids

The data showed a 5% increase in drug overdose deaths during 2020, compared to the previous year, and 2020 marked the largest number of deaths from drug overdoses on record in a single year.

Provisional life expectancy estimates were calculated using abridged period life tables based on provisional death counts for 2020 from death records received by NCHS by mid-May of this year, representing more than 99% of deaths occurring in the U.S. last year.

Among males, life expectancy declined by 1.8 years overall in 2020, to 74.5 years from 76.3 years in 2019.

Among females, life expectancy declined to 80.2 last year, from 81.4 in 2019.

Between 2000 and 2010 the life expectancy gap between the sexes narrowed from 5.2 years to a low of 4.8 years. In 2019 that gap had widened to 5.1 years and it widened again in 2020 to 5.7 years.

As a group, Hispanics experienced the largest single-year declines in life expectancy last year, dropping below the expected life expectancy of 80.3 years in 2006, which was the first year Hispanics were included in the analysis.

The longevity gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites decreased by 60% between 2019 and 2020, with the researchers noting that Hispanic populations lost more than half of the mortality advantage previously reported relative to Whites.

“Rather than a positive outcome the narrowing of the life expectancy gap between the two populations is a stark indicator of worsening health and mortality outcomes for a population that paradoxically has been, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, able to defy expectations consistent with its disadvantaged socioeconomic profile,” Arias and colleagues wrote.

They added that between group differences in monthly Covid-19-related mortality distributions may have impacted the findings, noting that a review of the monthly distribution of Covid deaths highlighted these differences.

“For the non-Hispanic Black population, the percentages of Covid-19 deaths were similar across the two halves of the year (40.5% and 50.3%),” they wrote. “In contrast, for the Hispanic population, 67.6% of all Covid-19 deaths occurred during the second half of the year. Similarly, for the non-Hispanic White population, 70.5% of the Covid-19 deaths occurred during the second half of the year.”

  1. Covid-19 was largely responsible for the largest single-year drop in life expectancy in the United States in close to 80 years, according to investigators with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

  2. The single-year decline among Blacks was close to double that, with life expectancy dropping by 2.9 years, from 74.7 years in 2019 to 71.8 years in 2020. The decline among Hispanics was even larger at 3 years.

Salynn Boyles, Contributing Writer, BreakingMED™

This research was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers were with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Cat ID: 190

Topic ID: 79,190,730,190,926,192,927,928,925,934