According to a new analysis, life expectancy in the United States, which fell dramatically in 2020 as the coronavirus swept through the country, continued to fall in 2021, despite the arrival of effective vaccines, indicating that America fared worse during the pandemic than 19 other wealthy countries.
The study, which was written by public health experts in Colorado, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. and published online but not yet peer-reviewed, found that White Americans were primarily responsible for the continued decline in life expectancy in 2021.
That was a 180-degree turn from the previous year’s trend. Then, among all Americans, the dramatic drop in life expectancy was far more pronounced in Hispanics and Blacks than in Whites, reflecting the virus’s disproportionate impact on communities of color and chronic health disparities. However, the data for 2021 flipped that trend on its head.
Vaccine hesitancy and the well-documented resistance to pandemic restrictions among some White Americans and in states with disproportionately White populations, according to the report’s authors, could be a factor in the reversal of the 2020 racial and ethnic pattern.
In 2021, life expectancy for all groups fell to 76.60 years. In 2020, it will be 76.99, and in 2019, it will be 78.86. These are unusual drops in history. According to the report, white life expectancy fell by a third of a year in 2021. After dropping a stunning 3.7 years in 2020 — a huge decline by any historical standard — Hispanic life expectancy was essentially flat, a statistically insignificant change. After a decline of 3.22 years — a huge drop — in 2020, Black Americans showed a modest rebound of.42 years in 2021. Due to data limitations, the report does not include estimates for Asian Americans, Native Americans, or other demographics.
The decline in 2020, which was far worse than in other wealthy countries, continued in 2021, much to the surprise of study co-author Steven Woolf, a public health physician and emeritus director of the Center On Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. He said he gave interviews a year ago about the bleak 2020 forecasts, assuming that the newly approved vaccines would reverse the downward trend.
The study was published on the medRxiv preprint server on Thursday, which has housed more than 17,000 pandemic-related research papers in the last two years. These papers have gone through a screening process, but they have not yet been peer-reviewed in the traditional sense. According to Woolf, the study will be submitted to a scientific journal soon. He and his colleagues believed the data was so compelling that it needed to be made public as soon as possible, which is why they submitted it to the preprint server rather than submitting it for formal peer review.
The researchers used modeling to examine changes in life expectancy in the United States, relying heavily on official data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics for 2018-2020 and provisional data for 2021. Previous reports based on the same modeling, according to Woolf, have been proven accurate when the CDC’s final numbers were released.
In the past, life expectancy has risen. Infant mortality has decreased as modern medicine has improved its treatment of infectious diseases, cancer, and other common causes of premature death. However, in recent years, life expectancy in the United States has flattened or even declined.
This trend could be influenced by a variety of social, economic, medical, and political factors, and it is still under investigation. The drug overdose crisis, fueled largely by the spread of opioids, has eroded life expectancy gains and even contributed to a decline for several years.
Life expectancy is not a prediction of how long a newborn will live, nor does it place a limit on a person’s expected lifespan. Because it summarizes the population’s death rates, it is a statistical snapshot of a nation’s health at a given point in time, and it provides one way to understand some of the pandemic’s mortality consequences.