CORONAVIRUS

US coronavirus: how US life expectancy dropped by an 'alarming' amount 

New report finds that life expectancy has decreased since 2020, and that US residents are expected to live shorter lives compared to “peer countries”

US coronavirus: how US life expectancy dropped by an 'alarming' amount 
PHILL MAGAKOE AFP

Compared to other “leading nations,” the United States has always lagged on one critical indicator -- life expectancy.

This year, after the pandemic has killed more than six hundred thousand people in the United States, the number of years those in the country are expected to live dropped even further.

A recent report published by BMJ, or the British Medical Journal, found that between 2010 and 2018, the gap in life expectancy “between the US and the peer country average increased from 1.88 years (78.66 v 80.54 years, respectively) to 3.05 years (78.74 v 81.78 years).”

The report found that the average life expectancy in the US today is around 76.87 years, furthering the divide with other comparable nations. A myriad of factors contributed to additional decreases between 2018 and 20201, and now, the gap between the US and its "peer countries" has increased to 4.69 years.


The report also found that minorities in the US face disproportionately lower life expectancies, saying that in  “Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black populations, reductions in life expectancy were 18 and 15 times the average in peer countries, respectively.” While progress had been made between 2010 and 2018 to close the racial gap, it was “erased” by the declines seen from 2018 to 2020. Sadly, the experts found at 67.73 years, life expectancy for Black men “had reached its lowest level since 1998."

What drove these decreases?

The report highlighted three main reasons why the US had a “much larger decrease in life expectancy between 2018 and 2020 than other high-income nations.” The first being the unprecedented number of people killed by covid-19. However, while the US recorded more deaths than any other country, “no study has quantified how the year’s large number of deaths affected life expectancy in the US.

Compared to the other G-7 countries, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, the US has the third-highest death rate compared to the population. The UK is first with .21% dead, followed by Italy with .19%. In the US, about .18% percent of the population has died as a result of covid-19. While lower than the other two countries, the United States is the wealthiest country globally, a fact that did not protect the citizens and residents who were killed by the virus.

Access to health care

The other reasons listed in the report relate to historical inequalities, in many cases driven by systemic racism relating to health care and many other facets of American society.

Before the pandemic began, according to the Washington Post, around 86 million people in the United States were un or underinsured. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more people in the US are insured, the number of people who are underinsured has increased. Being underinsured refers to individuals who pay more than ten percent of their income in out-of-pocket costs. According to BMJ, these issues are disproportionately felt by Black and Hispanic people, who are harmed by “longstanding policy choices and systemic racism.

It is a policy choice to leave millions of people without health care. The decision to leave many so vulnerable to a health crisis has shown the fragility of our society as millions of families, friends, and communities have been impacted by a loss caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

The BMJ report highlighted that “Long before covid-19, the US was at a disadvantage relative to other high-income nations in terms of health and survival.” As millions lost their jobs during the pandemic, some experts estimate that more than twenty-seven million workers and their dependents lost their employer-sponsored insurance. 

Lacking access to quality health care has been shown to relate to lower levels of life expectancy. In recovering from the pandemic and as more workers find new jobs, it will be important for policymakers to ensure the number of people un or underinsured is reduced, ideally below pre-pandemic levels.