In the United States, a “frightening” drop in life expectancy

“History”, ” horrible “, “frightening”… Demographers are struggling to find the best qualifier to designate the fall in life expectancy in the United States, which has been worsening for two years, under the combined effects of Covid-19 and structural factors in American society. The announcement, at the end of August, by the American health agency of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), of a loss of life expectancy of almost a year between 2020 and 2021 is certainly not a surprise. total, since the American population has regularly lost a few months of life expectancy every year since 2014. But demographers are nonetheless surprised by the extent of the phenomenon.

“This drop from 77 to 76.1 years has brought life expectancy at birth in the United States to its lowest level since 1996”, write the CDC. more alarming again, this is the second drop in two years, since 2020 had already recorded a 1.8-year drop. A decline of 2.7 years in two years, therefore, which constitutes the largest drop in this indicator since the 1920s.

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Life expectancy at birth is a statistical calculation used to establish the average lifespan of a fictitious generation subject to current mortality conditions. Concretely, this means that women and men who would have had, throughout their life, the death rates by sex and age observed in 2021 in the United States died on average at 76.1 years. Specifically, at 79.1 years for women and 73.2 years for men. Of course, this calculation remains fictitious, and it’s a safe bet that living conditions will change from year to year – for better or for worse. But this indicator has the advantage of summarizing in one figure the state of health of a population at a given moment. Concerning the United States, this summary is alarming.

Comorbidities and vaccine hesitancy

Among the most developed nations, the United States is the only country to experience such a situation. “Some high-income countries suffered no loss in life expectancy during the pandemic and others that suffered a loss in 2020 have largely regained lost ground in 2021”, notes Noreen Goldman, professor of demography and public affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. For example, in France, life expectancy fell very sharply in 2020, before increasing in 2021, to 82.5 years, returning almost to the pre-pandemic level (82.9 years). It is 79.3 years for men and 85.4 years for women.

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