US Life Expectancy Declined Again in 2021, CDC Says

The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic brought average US lifespans to their lowest levels since 1996.

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A health care worker comforts a COVID-19 patient in a hospital ward

US life expectancy dropped for the second year in a row in 2021.

Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images

Life expectancy for people in the US fell again in 2021, to 76.1 years, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Wednesday. It's the second drop in a row, since 2020 -- the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic -- saw the average US lifespan decrease by 1.8 years to age 77.

Life expectancy, a metric used when looking at population health and well-being, refers to the expected average number of years of life remaining for a person at a given age -- in this case at birth.

COVID-19 deaths contributed to half of the overall decline in life expectancy last year, data showed, with drug overdoses (which come under the "unintentional injuries" classification) and heart disease among the other major contributors.

The 2021 decline of nearly a year puts US life expectancy at its lowest level since 1996, the CDC noted. There's also a nearly six-year difference between genders -- male life expectancy is 73.2 years, and females are given an average of 79.1 years.

The situation might improve this year, Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, told Reuters.

"Mortality's been a little better in 2022 than it was in 2020, so I think it's likely that we would see maybe a slight increase in life expectancy," he said, but warned that 2022 lifespans are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels.

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