In 2021, the U.S. saw 3,458,697 deaths, an increase of 75,000 or 0.7% in mortality rate from 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heart disease and cancer remain the top two causes of death with COVID-19 as the third leading cause in 2021. Several factors such as age, sex, race and ethnicity tend to play a factor in life expectancy.
Mortality and morbidity, though related, are not synonymous. Mortality rate refers to the number of lives lost during a defined period among a specific group of people. The mortality rate can also indicate the number of deaths from a particular cause or event. Morbidity, on the other hand, refers to the condition suffered by a patient.
Deaths and Mortality Rate by Age
Age is one of the factors affecting mortality risk. Mortality rates increased from 835.4 in 2020 to 841.6 in 2021. MoneyGeek explored mortality rates by age group and as affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In general, the number of deaths increases with age, as do mortality rates. In 2021, the age groups with the highest figures were as follows:
65 to 74
75 to 84
85 and older
When compared, 2020 and 2021 show that death counts increased in most age groups. The exception was for those 85 and older — it decreased by almost 73,000.
Generally, mortality rates across all ages increased between 2020 and 2021. The three biggest jumps occurred in the following age groups:
- 45 to 54: from 473.5 to 538.5 (difference of 65)
- 55 to 64: from 1,038.90 to 1,131.80 (difference of 92.90)
- 65 to 74: from 2,072.31 to 2,148.20 (difference of 75.89)
However, although the death count from the 75 to 84 age group increased, the mortality rate decreased.
COVID-19 contributed to the increase in deaths from 2020 to 2021. Those 85 and older had the highest mortality rate for both years, but 2021's rate decreased by around 24%.
Deaths and Mortality Rates by Sex
A person's sex plays a role in their mortality. Based on 2021 provisional data, male adults have gotten the shorter end of the stick. They have shorter lives, more deaths and higher mortality rates. The table below breaks this down further.
The death count for males was higher in both 2020 and 2021. Although the total deaths per year for each sex increased in 2021, female fatalities increased by less than 1% at 10,016. In comparison, male deaths increased by 3.67%. That translates to 64,952 lives.
Death rates tell a different story. The mortality rate for females decreased by 0.5, going from 695.1 in 2020 to 694.6 in 2021. The death rate for men increased by 12.70.
Out of the total deaths in 2020, 11.36% involved COVID-19. The ratio increased slightly to 13.31% in 2021.
In both years, male deaths outnumbered female ones. Recorded COVID-related fatalities for females increased by a little over 26,000 in 2021, while there were almost 50,000 more male deaths.
Mortality rates followed the same pattern. Those for females went from 73.9 out of 100,000 population to 87.7. Death rates for males went from 117 to 140.
Deaths and Mortality Rate by Race and Ethnicity
MoneyGeek evaluated deaths and mortality rates by race and ethnicity. Numbers show that recorded fatalities and mortality rates follow the same pattern for 2020 and 2021. The table below gives the details for each year.
Mortality Rate in 2020
Mortality rate (per 100,000 population)
American Indian/Alaska Native, non-Hispanic
Native Hawaiian/other Pacific
Mortality Rate in 2021
Mortality rate (per 100,000 population)
American Indian/Alaska Native, non-Hispanic
Native Hawaiian/other Pacific
Regardless of the year, the White Non-Hispanic population had the highest number of deaths, contributing 73% and 74% of all recorded fatalities in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
However, if you look at mortality rates, the White Non-Hispanic population only ranked third. The American Indian/Alaska Natives (AIAN) population had the highest death rate in 2021 at 1,088.5 per 100,000 population. That's 52.3 more than in 2020. The Black Non-Hispanic population came in second with a mortality rate of 1,081.2 — 37.8 less than the previous year.
COVID-related deaths were 11.36% of total fatalities in 2020 and 13.31% in 2021. White Non-Hispanics had the most deaths for both years, followed by the Hispanic and Black Non-Hispanic populations. However, if you focus on mortality rates only, the ethnic groups with the highest numbers were the AIAN and Hispanic populations for 2020 and the Native Hawaiian and AIAN populations for 2021.
Top 10 Leading Causes of Death
Knowing the mortality rate is one thing, but understanding what leads to these figures is another. MoneyGeek explored the leading causes of death in the U.S. in 2020 and whether they have changed over the years.
Comparing data from 2019 and 2020, 90% of the top causes of death in the U.S. per year remained the same. Heart disease and cancer had the highest mortality rates in 2020 at 168.2 and 144.1 per 100,000 population, respectively.
Although mortality rates for cancer and chronic lower respitory disease (CLRD) were high in 2020, they improved from 2019. The causes with the highest mortality rate increases were accidents (from 49.3 to 57.6) and heart disease (161.5 to 168.2).
COVID-19, which was not part of the 2019 list, ranked third in 2020. In 2021, provisional data showed it held the same place, ranking only lower than heart disease and cancer.
Among the total number of deaths in 2020, it was a factor of 384,536, with a mortality rate of 93.2 per 100,000 population. COVID-related deaths in 2021 increased by almost 20%, reaching 460,513. Its mortality rate also went up to 111.4 per 100,000 population.
Understanding Morbidity and Mortality Rates
Morbidity and mortality (or the “death rate”) are two commonly used measures to help agencies strategize what practices to implement and how to evaluate them.
Morbidity focuses on the state of an individual’s health. Those with comorbidities experience more than one illness simultaneously. For example, you have comorbidities if you are diagnosed with chronic heart disease and also live with diabetes.
Mortality refers to the number of deaths caused by a specific health event or cause. Excess mortality is the difference between expected deaths and reported ones. Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. Excess mortality provides more information about deaths directly or indirectly connected to the worldwide pandemic.
With the number of deaths continuously increasing since 2019, having life insurance has never been more crucial. It ensures your loved ones have financial support should the worst happen. Health insurance is another financial product worth considering, especially since four in ten adults suffer from two or more chronic diseases. The lack of coverage can result in considerable fees due to the required medical treatments.
Given that many factors affect morbidity and mortality rates, some individuals are at higher risk than others. MoneyGeek’s data focuses on three risk modifiers — sex, age, race and ethnicity. Across the board, the most common causes of death were accidents and injuries, most of which were preventable.
One factor that affects mortality risk is a person's sex. Life expectancy has decreased from 2019 to 2020. In general, women live longer than men. Sex also plays a role in your susceptibility to specific illnesses. For example, heart disease and Parkinson's disease are more common in men. In comparison, strokes and osteoporosis are more likely to affect women.
Over the years, biological systems accumulate damage, increasing the chances of diabetes, pulmonary disease, hearing loss and dementia. However, it's crucial to note that older age alone doesn't guarantee health issues. Having a healthy lifestyle can help combat some of these age-related health concerns. Age also affects the number of home deaths and injuries. The causes of these deaths vary depending on the age group. For example, poisoning (including drug overdose) was the top cause of death for those between 15 and 64. However, falling is the leading cause for those 65 and older, while mechanical suffocation is most common for children under 15.
Race and Ethnicity
Race and ethnicity also impact mortality and morbidity. Some diseases are more common in specific age groups, and the same goes for certain ethnicities and races. For example, the Black, Non-Hispanic and Hispanic populations are more likely to develop diabetes than the White Non-Hispanic and Asian populations. However, White Non-Hispanic adults are more likely to experience heart attacks than the Black Non-Hispanic, Hispanic and Asian individuals.
Mortality Statistics FAQ
You can gather a lot of information by studying the mortality rate and the number of deaths in the U.S. Understanding the trends across various groups can inform your longevity and finances. MoneyGeek answered some frequently asked questions below.
Expert Insights on US Mortality Statistics
Try not to let mortality risk factors scare you out of living a full, abundant life. Let the facts help inform your lifestyle and future. MoneyGeek included insights and advice from financial experts and business owners about life expectancy and personal finances.
- What factors contribute to the shorter life expectancy in the U.S.?
- How crucial is life insurance considering the country’s mortality rates? Is it something people should invest in? Why or why not?
- What advice can you give people who want to live a long life?
President and Founder
Retired Financial Planner & Financial Coach
Associate Professor of Accounting, LaPenta School of Business of Iona University
In-House CPA, Step by Step Business
Learning about mortality rates can help you structure your lifestyle, plan for the future and protect yourself and loved ones. Of course, unfortunate circumstances sometimes occur that we couldn’t possibly prepare for. These additional resources can provide more information about life insurance, death benefits, health conditions and financial well-being.
- Guide to Life Insurance Death Benefits and Final Expenses: Losing a loved one is extremely difficult. This MoneyGeek page helps you through the steps of obtaining financial support during this difficult time.
- Does Life Insurance Pay for Suicidal Death?: Find out whether a life insurance policy covers death by suicide. Most do, but it’s best to know policy provisions for a tragic event such as suicide.
- What are Different Types of Life Insurance?: If you feel life insurance is an investment worth making, it’s best to understand your options. MoneyGeek’s page delineates the differences between various life insurance plans to help you determine which one’s right for you.
- Should I Get a Life Insurance Policy and Create an Estate Plan Because of the Coronavirus?: Although restrictions are slowly lifting, the pandemic still isn’t over. This page helps you explore the possibility of purchasing life insurance and outlines the steps to creating an estate plan.
- The Connection Between Physical and Financial Health: Your finances can be a significant source of stress. If not addressed, they can lead to health issues. MoneyGeek takes a closer look at the connection between physical and financial well-being and helps you devise strategies to improve your overall condition.
- What is Health Insurance? Understanding Health Care in 2022: Life insurance isn’t the only form of financial protection worth considering. Another option is health coverage. See what it is, how it works and whether it’s right for you.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Chronic Diseases in America." Accessed November 21, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Mortality in the United States, 2020." Accessed November 23, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Provisional Mortality Data — United States, 2021." Accessed November 21, 2022.