According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average life expectancy in the U.S. decreased from 78.8 years in 2019 to 76.1 years in 2021 — the lowest it's been since 1996. Using statistics from the CDC, MoneyGeek explored this decline, along with many factors that influence life expectancy, such as sex, age, race and ethnicity. Additionally, MoneyGeek utilized statistics from the World Bank to compare U.S. life expectancy with that of other G7 countries.
Life Expectancy Over Time
Based on the CDC's provisional data, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 76.1 years. However, it's crucial to understand this hasn’t always been the case. MoneyGeek’s graph details how figures have changed since 1980.
Although life expectancy among Americans has fluctuated over the years, the general trend has been upward for the last four decades. It reached an all-time high in 2004 at 78.9 years. However, between 2019 and 2020, it decreased by 1.8 years to 77 years, the most significant change between two consecutive years.
Since then, life expectancy in the U.S. has continued to shorten and currently sits at 76.1 years in 2021. The pandemic contributed significantly to the sharp decline, making up three-quarters of the shorter life expectancy between 2019 and 2020. From 2020 to 2021, COVID-19 made up 50%, while 16% were accidental and preventable deaths, most of which were from drug overdoses.
Life Expectancy by Sex
Understanding life expectancy means going beyond the average. For example, breaking the numbers down by sex shows that the average life expectancy for females is higher than for males. The graph below presents data for males and females since 2019.
CDC provisional numbers still show that females live longer than males. As of 2021, the average life expectancy for males is 73.2 years. In comparison, females live almost six years longer at 79.1 years.
However, looking at how life expectancy numbers have declined since 2019, you'll notice that the year-on-year difference for females is less drastic. Life expectancy for males shortened by 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020 and 1.3 years from 2020 to 2021. Changes in female life expectancy were 1.2 years (2019–2020) and 1.1 years (2020–2021).
The gap between male and female life expectancies has grown in the last two years. It went from 5.1 years in 2019 to 5.9 years in 2021.
Life Expectancy by Age
Age is another area that shows a difference in life expectancy numbers. MoneyGeek's graph shows the average life expectancy from two periods: from birth and age 65. Assuming death rates remain the same, life expectancy at 65 refers to how many additional years a person can live on average from that age. It is worth exploring since a higher number suggests that the older population is in better health overall.
Looking at life expectancy figures from 2019, you'll see a downward trend, whether from birth or age 65.
The life expectancy from birth is 2.7 years shorter in 2021 than in 2019. You'll observe the same trend for life expectancy at 65. In 2019, the life expectancy from 65 was 19.6 years; in 2021, it was 18.3 years, less than a year change.
Life Expectancy by Race and Ethnicity
Race and ethnicity are other interesting angles to explore regarding average life expectancy. The CDC looked at five in particular:
- Non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN)
- Non-Hispanic Asian
- Non-Hispanic Black
- Non-Hispanic White
MoneyGeek's graph shows how numbers have shifted between 2019 and 2021.
Life expectancy across all races and ethnicities has continuously decreased from 2019 to 2021, though the disparity between the last two years is smaller.
Breaking the numbers down by race and ethnicity shows the same trend, though in varying severity. The life expectancy of the AIAN population dipped significantly (4.7 years) from 2019 to 2020. The non-Hispanic Asian population had the longest life expectancy in 2020, at 83.6 years.
The downward trend across all ethnicities surveyed continued from 2020 to 2021, although to a lesser degree. The differences for the Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic Asian populations were less than a year. However, the AIAN population’s life expectancy was shortened by 1.9 years, while the non-Hispanic White population’s decreased by one year.
US Life Expectancy vs. Other Countries
America has one of the strongest economies in the world and spends a significant amount of its resources on health care. In 2021, the U.S.'s healthcare spending reached $4.3 trillion — 2.7% higher than in 2020.
Our analysis compares the average life expectancy in the U.S. to other similarly developed countries in the G7. It's crucial to note that these figures only go as far as 2020 since more recent information isn't available.
Source: The World Bank
Despite the number of resources allocated to health care, the U.S. comes in last for life expectancy among the G7 countries. Japan had the highest life expectancy in 2020 at 85 years, closely followed by Canada, France and Italy, all with a life expectancy of 82 years.
The other two countries (Germany and the United Kingdom) followed closely behind at 81 years. The United States was the only one with a life expectancy average in the 70s.
Life Expectancy FAQ
Knowing the average life expectancy in the U.S. can help you make better financial decisions, especially if you break down the information by various demographics. MoneyGeek included commonly asked questions about this subject — and the answers could help you with estate planning or whether or not to purchase life insurance.
Reading about life expectancy numbers can open the door to many questions regarding personal finance. Should you invest in life insurance? Is it time to plan your estate? Fortunately, there's no lack of online resources that could provide you with the necessary information.
- From Coverage to Claims: How Does Life Insurance Work? Become familiar with the ins and outs of life insurance. Determine which type of life insurance plan fits your needs.
- Is Life Insurance Worth It? How to Decide Whether to Get Life Insurance: A life insurance policy comes with many benefits, but it isn’t for everyone. MoneyGeek explores reasons to buy and not to buy coverage so you can determine what’s best for your situation.
- How Much Does Life Insurance Cost? Your life insurance premium is influenced by various factors. MoneyGeek breaks them down in detail and shares tips on how to lower premium rates.
- Best Life Insurance for Seniors in 2023: You may spend more on life insurance as you get older, but it’s possible to find affordable options.
- Estate Planning Checkup: 15 Minutes To Put You On a Good Path: Part of good money management is planning your estate. MoneyGeek provides steps to get you started.
About Angelique Cruz
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Life Expectancy in the U.S. Dropped for the Second Year in a Row." Accessed January 15, 2023.
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "National Health Expenditure Data — Historical." Accessed January 16, 2023.
- National Vital Statistics System. "Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates for 2021." Accessed January 15, 2023.
- Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker. "How Does U.S. Life Expectancy Compare to other." Accessed January 31, 2023.
- The World Bank. "Life Expectancy at Birth, Total (Years) — Italy, United Kingdom, United States, Japan, Canada, France, Germany." Accessed January 16, 2023.
- Council on Foreign Relations. "Where is the G7 Headed?." Accessed January 31, 2023.