COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

Perspective from Georges C. Benjamin, MD
Perspective from Leon McDougle, MD, MPH
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
January 22, 2021
3 min read
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COVID-19 ‘eliminating’ recent gains in US life expectancy

Perspective from Georges C. Benjamin, MD
Perspective from Leon McDougle, MD, MPH
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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The COVID-19 pandemic may wipe out life expectancy gains that took more than a dozen years for the United States to achieve, according to researchers.

The CDC estimates that, as of Jan. 20, 2021, more than 400,300 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19.

Changes in U.S. life expectancy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: In Blacks, it is 2.1 years fewer. In Latinos, it is 3.05 years fewer and in Whites it is 0.68 year fewer.

“An important but as of yet unanswered question concerns the impact of this exceptional number of deaths on life expectancy for the entire nation as well as the consequences for marginalized groups,” Theresa Andrasfay, PhD, MA, a postdoctoral fellow at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California and Noreen Goldman, DSc, a professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton University, wrote.

The researchers used birth, death and census data to estimate changes in U.S. life expectancy in 2020. Some of their projections, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that:

  • across all races and ethnicities, life expectancy in 2020 dropped 1.13 years to 77.48 years, the lowest since 2003;
  • across all races and ethnicities, life expectancy for those aged 65 years dropped 0.87 year; and
  • life expectancy for Blacks and Latinos at birth declined 2.1 and 3.05 years, respectively, which is three to four times greater than the 0.68-year reduction for whites.

According to Andrasfay and Goldman, the projections suggest a nearly 40% increase in the Black-white life expectancy gap from 3.6 years to more than 5 years, “eliminating progress” the U.S. made in reducing this differential since 2006. In addition, Latinos’ survival advantage over whites dropped by 70% from 3 years to less than 1 year.

The researchers said the impact of the estimated decline in overall life expectancy “is about 10 times as large as the worrisome annual decreases several years ago that were attributed largely to drug overdoses, other external causes, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.”

“The U.S. reduction in 2020 life expectancy is projected to exceed that of most other high-income countries, indicating that the United States — which already had a life expectancy below that of all other high-income, developed nations prior to the pandemic — will see its life expectancy fall even farther behind its peers,” Andrasfay and Goldman wrote.