US Life Expectancy Ticked up in 2022 but Remains Below Pre-Pandemic Level: CDC

US Life Expectancy Ticked up in 2022 but Remains Below Pre-Pandemic Level: CDC
Newborn babies in the nursery of a postpartum recovery center in upstate N.Y., on Feb. 16, 2017. (Seth Wenig/File photo via AP)
Katabella Roberts

Life expectancy for Americans increased between 2021 and 2022 following two consecutive years of decline, according to provisional data published on Nov. 28 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows that life expectancy—an estimation of how long a baby born in a particular year might be expected to live—rose in the United States from 76.4 in 2021 to 77.5 in 2022, marking a 1.1-year increase.

Life expectancy estimates in the report are based on provisional mortality data for 2022 which is compared to final data for 2021 from the National Vital Statistics System based on death certificates “received, processed, and coded but not finalized by NCHS,” the report notes.

With more than a month left in the current year, the estimates may be revised at a later date.

While life expectancy in the United States ticked upward in 2022, it is still far behind the 78.8 years it was in 2019.

The CDC report also noted that the increase still does not fully offset the loss of 2.4 years of life expectancy between 2019 and 2021, which resulted mainly from a surge in deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, the increase of 1.1 years in life expectancy from 2021 to 2022 was primarily owing to decreases in mortality from COVID-19 (84.2 percent of the positive contribution), heart disease (3.6 percent), unintentional injuries (2.6 percent), cancer (2.2 percent), and homicide (1.5 percent).

Additionally, the CDC noted that the increase in life expectancy among Americans would have been even greater if not for the offsetting effects of increases in mortality from influenza and pneumonia (25.5 percent), perinatal conditions (21.5 percent), kidney disease (13.0 percent), nutritional deficiencies (12.6 percent), and congenital malformations (5.9 percent).

Deaths From COVID-19 in 2022 Were ‘Not Insubstantial’

“In 2022, the number of deaths from COVID-19 was not insubstantial,” Elizabeth Arias, a researcher with the NCHS who was the lead author of the report, told CNN. “Holding everything else constant, we’d need to see another large decline in COVID mortality for life expectancy to increase.”

“We only made up close to half of the loss [in life expectancy], and for some groups, it’s even less,” Ms. Arias said. “We would need the same pattern that we observed in 2022 again in 2023 and then, perhaps, the following year to completely make up the loss.”

Around 245,000 people died from COVID-19 in 2022, down from about 385,000 deaths in 2020 and more than 462,000 deaths in 2021, according to CDC data.

However, the United States is still battling with drug overdose deaths and suicides, both have which have risen in recent years.

A second CDC report released Wednesday showed U.S. suicides reached an all-time high in 2022. According to that report, which is also based on provisional data, the number of suicides in 2022 (49,449) was 3 percent higher than in 2021 (48,183). The provisional age-adjusted suicide rate was 1 percent higher in 2022 (14.3 deaths per 100,000 standard population) than in 2021 (14.1), the report found.

The rate for 2022 would be the highest since 1941, according to the report.

Drug overdose deaths in the United States also rose slightly last year and continued to rise in the first six months of this year, with provisional data estimating there were 111,877 overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending June 2023, compared with 109,034 overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending June 2022.

The CDC’s provisional report published on Wednesday found that life expectancy differed between sexes between 2021 and 2022, although both men and women saw increases.

Life expectancy at birth for males in 2022 was 74.8 years, representing an increase of 1.3 years from 73.5 in 2021, according to the report. For females, life expectancy increased to 80.2 years, increasing 0.9 year from 79.3 in 2021.

An elderly resident is escorted toward the John Knox Village, a retirement community in Pompano Beach, Fla., on March 21, 2020. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)
An elderly resident is escorted toward the John Knox Village, a retirement community in Pompano Beach, Fla., on March 21, 2020. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Life Expectancy Differences Among Genders, Ethnicity

While a gap between the two sexes remained, it stood at 5.4 years in 2022, having decreased from 5.8 in 2021.

The CDC noted that between 2000 and 2010, the difference in life expectancy between the sexes narrowed from 5.2 years to its lowest level of 4.8, “but then increased in 2020 and 2021 to levels not seen since 1996 when the difference was 6.0 years.”

Elsewhere, life expectancy varied by race and ethnicity, according to the provisional data.

Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives saw life expectancy rise more than two years in 2022. Among the black population, life expectancy rose by 1.6 years from 71.2 in 2021 to 72.8 in 2022, and for Asian Americans, life expectancy rose one year, from 83.5 in 2021 to 84.5 in 2022.

For the white population, life expectancy saw a 0.8-year increase to 77.5 in 2022, according to the report.

Despite the increases, American Indians and Alaska Natives still had the lowest life expectancy at 67.9 years, while Asians had the highest life expectancy at 84.5 years, the provisional data found.

Meanwhile, while life expectancy among the black population has consistently been lower than that of the white population, that gap has been narrowing over the past three decades, from 7.1 years in 1993 to 4.0 in 2019, according to the CDC report.

Commenting on the latest provisional data, Ryan Masters, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told NBC News that the United States still has a long way to go in improving public health, which had been lagging prior to the pandemic. Life expectancy in the United States also still remains lower when compared to dozens of other countries.

Mr. Masters told the publication that the COVID-19 pandemic “was not a health shock as much as people want to portray it to be.”

“For the 40 years leading up to the pandemic, the United States was distinguishing itself as being quite poor in health and mortality outcomes,” he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.