Why American Life Expectancy Has Decreased To The Lowest It's Been In Years

Living a full life is a commonly shared goal, which generally includes living as long as possible. However, American life expectancy has fallen to the lowest it has been in over two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The life expectancy of Americans in 2021 dropped to a low level that hasn't been documented since 1996. Throughout 2021, there were 3,464,231 deaths documented in the United States. The number of deaths in 2021 totaled a number higher than recorded deaths in 2020, with an increase of 80,502 individual deaths.

In 2019, the average life expectancy for Americans was 78.8 years, reports WebMD. For the year 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic commenced, life expectancy in the United States dropped to 77 years of age. In 2021, the average life expectancy continued to decline and was recorded by the CDC to be 76.4 years, making it the shortest life expectancy for Americans in 25 years. The average life expectancy for all Americans is the average for both women and men, though the biological sexes have respective life expectancies. Women have historically experienced longer life expectancies than men have. That trend remains — at present — with the 2021 life expectancy for women reported as 79.3 years and the life expectancy for men reported to be 73.5 years of age. Here's why the average life expectancy in the United States has dropped so low for the first time in two and a half decades.

The leading causes of death

With the novel coronavirus pandemic affecting the world in 2020, deaths from COVID-19 became a leading cause of fatalities, but the most common causes of death may surprise you. Of the top 10 leading causes of death, there were few changes from previous years, though deaths from cirrhosis of the liver, chronic liver disease, drug overdoses increased, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The decline in American life expectancy documented in 2021 is affected by the rise in medication and drug overdose deaths, particularly from synthetic opioids like tramadol and fentanyl. Deaths from both synthetic opioids and drugs like cocaine increased by 22% from 2020 to 2021, though deaths from heroin overdoses went down by 32% across the same period of time. Overall, fatal drug overdoses have increased over five times the number of deaths they accounted for two decades ago.

The top 10 leading causes of death account for approximately 74% of total American deaths (via Medical News Today). When it comes to reasons why Americans pass away, heart disease tops the list. Just behind deaths from heart disease are deaths from cancer and COVID-19 as the leading causes of why over three million Americans died in 2021, per the CDC. Between all causes of death, including the leading causes and all other means such as old age and accidents, the United States now reports 879.7 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest number of deaths this millennium.