(Trends Wide) — Life expectancy in the United States took another hit in 2021, leading to a dramatic decline since 2020 that was the largest since World War II, according to a new report.
The study, published Thursday on the medRxiv preprint server, meaning it has not been peer-reviewed, found that after falling nearly 1.9 years in 2020, life expectancy in the US fell another 0. 4 years in 2021.
In the decade before the pandemic, life expectancy in the US changed by an average of less than 0.1 years per year, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Changes in life expectancy amid the Covid-19 pandemic have widened the gap between the US and other high-income countries, the new report shows. Among a set of 19 peer countries, life expectancy fell by only a third as much as in the US in 2020 (a decrease of 0.6 years, on average) and recovered in 2021, with an average increase of about 0.3 years.
Life expectancy in the United States fell from 78.9 years in 2019 to 76.6 years in 2021, now more than five years less than the average among peers.
“This says a lot about the life-long consequences of how the US handled the pandemic,” study author Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a statement.
“What happened in the US has less to do with variants than with levels of resistance to vaccination and the public’s rejection of practices, such as masking and mandates, to reduce viral transmission.”
Across the country, there was a disproportionate decline in life expectancy for blacks and Hispanics in 2020. But in 2021, whites had the biggest losses, with life expectancy flat for Hispanics and a slight increase for blacks.
For this study, Woolf and other researchers from the University of Colorado and the Urban Institute analyzed death data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the Human Mortality Database and other international statistical agencies.