Pandemic Caused U.S. Life Expectancy To Plummet — Especially Among Black And Hispanic Americans, Study Finds
After suffering the world’s deadliest Covid-19 outbreak, the United States’ life expectancy dropped by nearly 2 years between 2018 and 2020, a much larger dip than most other wealthy Western countries, according to a study released Wednesday — and Black and Hispanic Americans saw a particularly large decrease.
Americans’ life expectancy dropped from 78.74 years in 2018 to an estimated 76.87 years in 2020, according to the study, which was published in the British Medical Journal and used data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Life expectancy ticked up by 0.1 years between 2018 and 2019, so the study’s authors think the latest decrease is almost entirely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which killed around 375,000 Americans last year and more than 200,000 so far this year.
Declines in life expectancy were especially severe for people of color: Black Americans experienced a 3.25-year drop in life expectancy from 2018 to 2020, and Hispanics saw a 3.88-year decline, compared to just 1.36 years for white Americans.
“I was very surprised by the magnitude,” Steven Woolf, a medical professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and one of the study’s authors, told Forbes. “This is a massive decrease in life expectancy, and it’s on a scale we haven’t seen since World War II.”
The United States experienced a far worse drop in life expectancy during the pandemic than other high-income nations like Sweden and the United Kingdom, the study found. Some countries with low Covid-19 death rates — including Norway and New Zealand — actually saw increases in life expectancy from 2018 to 2020. This trend widened a preexisting gap in lifespan between the United States and many of its high-income peers, a trend researchers like Woolf have linked partly to higher rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
When Covid-19 struck, the United States was already grappling with stagnant life expectancy numbers, even as lifespans grew longer in other countries. Americans’ life expectancy grew by just 0.08 years from 2010 to 2018, according to Wednesday’s study. Woolf says this plateau is mostly due to deaths among working-age Americans, particularly in economically hard-hit areas like Appalachia and the Rust Belt, with socioeconomic despair, drug overdoses and chronic health issues all serving as possible culprits.
The United States have suffered more coronavirus fatalities than any other country: The U.S. death toll topped 600,000 last week, and although deaths have fallen from their January peak, more than 300 Americans still die from the virus every day. In particular, Black and Hispanic people have died from Covid-19 at a disproportionate rate, a disparity some researchers have blamed on inadequate testing and gaps in access to healthcare. As a result, it’s not shocking that the Covid-19 pandemic caused life expectancies to drop at an alarming clip for Americans in general, and Hispanic and Black residents in particular. One study from January predicted lifespans would shorten by more than a year in 2020.