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Life expectancy for Americans born in 2021 was just 76.4 years, the lowest in a quarter-century, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The life expectancy was down 0.6 years from 2020, and 2.4 years from 2019.
It has not been so low since 1996, when it was 76.1 years.
Males, continuing a past trend, born in 2021 had a lower life expectancy than females—73.5, compared with 79.3. Males’ life expectancy decreased slightly more than females, pushing the gap between the sexes to 5.8 years.
Nine of the top 10 leading causes of death in 2021 remained the same as in 2020. Influenza and pneumonia exited the top 10 in 2021, replaced by chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.
The top causes of death, according to the CDC:
- Heart disease
- Unintentional injuries
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases
- Alzheimer disease
- Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis
- Kidney disease
Deaths attributed to COVID-19—deaths where COVID-19 was listed as the underlying cause—increased about 19 percent to 416,893 in 2021, despite the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines. COVID-19 was behind 12 percent of the 3.4 million resident deaths in the United States in 2021.
Heart disease and cancer killed more people, according to the CDC.
The lower life expectancy at birth was “largely because of increases in mortality due to COVID-19, unintentional injuries, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, suicide, and homicide,” Jiaquan Xu, Sherry Murphy, Kenneth Kochanek, and Elizabeth Arias, researchers with the National Center for Health Statistics, said in a brief.
Sources for the data are death certificates filed across the 50 states and the District of Columbia and compiled in a database known as the National Vital Statistics System.
Expectancy at Age 65
The United States has a growing population of elderly people. For Americans aged 65, the life expectancy in 2021 was 18.4 years, down 0.1 years from 2020.
Females aged 65 were expected to live 19.8 years, down 0.1 years from 2020; males’ life expectancy was 17 years, with no difference from a year prior.
The rate of death stratified by age showed an increase among all groups, including a 10.1 percent jump among children aged 1 to 4, a 16.1 percent increase for people aged 35 to 44, and a 12.1 increase for people aged 45 to 54.
The smallest increases were for elderly people aged 65 and older.
The infant mortality rate, meanwhile, did not change significantly from 2020. It ticked up slightly from 541.9 infant deaths per 100,000 live births to 543.6 infant deaths per 100,000 live births.
The leading causes of infant deaths were congenital malformations, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome. COVID-19 was not in the top 10.
Death Rates by Ethnicity
Death rates increased for Hispanic females, American Indian or Alaska native males and females, black women, and white men and women. The highest increases were among American Indian or Alaska native females and white people.
Rates decreased for Hispanic males and black males.
Drug Overdoses Soar
Drug overdose deaths soared in 2021 when compared to 2021, contributing to the jump in overall mortality and the lowered life expectancy.
In 2021, 106,699 drug overdose deaths were recorded, the CDC said in another brief.
The age-adjusted rate was up 4.1 deaths per 100,000 population, reaching 32.4 per 100,000.
That’s up from 13.8 in 2013 and just 6.8 in 2001.
The rate of deaths was higher among all age groups 25 and older, with particularly large increases among middle-aged people. Among those aged 35 to 44—the group with the highest rate—for instance, the rate increased to 8.1 deaths per 100,000.
Increases were recorded in overdose deaths involving opioids and cocaine, while a decrease was logged for heroin overdose deaths.
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