U.S. life expectancy followed 2020’s historic decline of 1.9 years, the worst since World War II, by falling another 0.4 years in 2021. Even with the development of effective vaccines, a second straight year of lower life spans marks a stunning reversal for the world’s wealthiest nation.
From an average life expectancy of 78.9 years in 2019, the U.S. plunged to 76.6 years in 2021, now over five years below the average of peer countries. In fact, the study by the University of Colorado Boulder found peer countries overall experienced a small increase in 2021.
Researchers assert last year’s spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant and slow vaccination acceptance for the second consecutive year of higher mortality.
U.S. life expectancy is most commonly compared with that of similar rich European countries, and up until the 1990s there was little difference in the longevity of Americans compared to those in the UK, Germany, and France. But now, from infants to the elderly, living in the U.S. means a higher mortality rate and shorter lifespans.
Interestingly, the much-publicized disparity in life expectancy between White and Black Americans in the U.S. had decreased by almost half in recent years. Even moreso, only the non-Hispanic White population of the U.S. experienced a drop last year.
Factoring in the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. suffered three times the drop in life expectancy than 19 similarly high-income countries. With only a brief respite in the summer of 2021, coronavirus has been one of the top three causes of death in the U.S. for the past two years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 980,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Over 77% of the U.S. population has had at least one vaccine dose and 65.7% are fully vaccinated.
Globally, only the U.S. and Israel lost life expectancy in both 2020 and 2021, and South Korea was the only country that actually increased both years. Residents of the next-lowest of the 20 nations in the survey group, Scotland, still have an average life span of nearly two years longer than the U.S.