America’s life expectancy is dropping because younger people are dying

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On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a grim announcement. For the second year in a row, American life expectancy fell. In 2019, there were 715 deaths per 100,000 Americans and life expectancy at birth was 78.8 years. In 2021, there were about 880 deaths per 100,000 people and life expectancy at birth dropped to 76.4 years.

The ongoing death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has played a major role, as have deaths from drug overdoses, particularly opioids. But the rate of decline in life expectancy is a function WHO dying More people are dying at younger ages, which reduces the expectation of death in the elderly.

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I spoke with Sripad Tuljapurakar of Stanford University in 2021 about life expectancy. He made exactly this point about the consequences of younger deaths.

“If you kill someone at age 50, the impact on life expectancy is much greater than if you kill someone at age 75, to put it bluntly,” he said. “As a result, we’ll see a decline in life expectancy because we’re losing younger people at an unimaginable rate.”

In the past two years, young people have seen a sharp increase in deaths. Looking at CDC data (including provisional figures for 2021), we see that the death rate among Americans under 25 rose 2.5 percent between the average value for 2018 and 2019 and the average value for 2020 and 2021. For those 65 and older, deaths due to Covid-19 increased by nearly 20 percent. For 25- to 64-year-olds, the increase is even greater, just shy of 24 percent.

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You can see it below. The death toll rose significantly in 2020 and 2021 from the teens upwards as the pandemic killed more than a million people. But look at the data on Covid-19 deaths in 2020 and 2021: the death toll is small. Given how deadly the virus is for people over 65 in 2020, we can attribute this in part to vaccination resistance against the virus, which is more common in people under 65.

On a state-by-state basis, we can see what that looks like. Below, the change in the number of deaths is shown for each of the 11 age groups. The percentage of increase (dark purple) is consistently larger in the center of the graph – not the children, not the elderly – than at the edges.

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We can also look at politics. A disproportionate number of Covid-19 deaths in 2021 occurred in states that supported former President Donald Trump in 2020, places where the delta mutation surged in the summer and vaccination rates were low.

According to CDC data, there were about 378,000 more deaths in 2020 and 2021 than in 2018 and 2019 among those age 65 and older. About 137,000 deaths occurred among 25- to 64-year-olds — a large increase compared to the 2018-2019 baseline.

That increase is one reason the country’s life expectancy is falling. Americans were dying more — and younger.


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