Life expectancy in US drops to ‘catastrophic’ low due to COVID-19

• Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped to 77.3-years-old in 2020.
• It’s the largest decline since World War II.
• COVID lockdowns influenced other deaths, according to data.

Blame COVID-19 for the shorter life cycles.

Life expectancy in the US declined by a year and a half in 2020, the largest decline since World War II, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (more specifically, declines of 1.8 years for men and 1.2 years for women).

The pandemic — which started back in March 2020 — influenced estimations of American life expectancy, which dropped to 77.3 years in 2020, the data released Wednesday said.

Although the number is near the same level as it was in 2003, life expectancy in states was increasing over the past few years — until COVID-19 related deaths and other crises fueled by the pandemic (like drug overdoses, homicides and chronic diseases) helped sway the drop.

“I myself had never seen a change this big except in the history books,” said Elizabeth Arias, a demographer at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, in a press briefing.

Mark Hayward, a University of Texas sociology professor and US mortality expert, told AP that the life expectancy drop was “basically catastrophic.”

What led to a decrease in life expectancy

The main driver of mortalities was chronic illness, like heart disease and cancer, according to the report. However, the pandemic, which contributed to 385,201 American deaths in 2020, was an unforeseen factor that also contributed to other problems experienced during COVID lockdowns.

More than 93,000 Americans died of drug overdoses during the lockdowns, which is a new record and over 20,000 more than in 2019. Most overdoses (around 70,000) were caused by natural or synthetic opioids, according to researchers.

The COVID lockdowns also caused a surge in deaths via homicide, diabetes, and liver disease — which is linked to excessive alcohol use, the CDC said.

Researchers said life expectancy could have fallen even further were it not for decreases in deaths due to cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases like bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

Fertility rates also plummeted

The pandemic also played a role in the fertility rate; the number of babies a woman is expected to have during their lifetime fell to 1.64 in 2020. It’s the lowest since the 1930s when it started to be tracked. Births also saw a decline; US women had around 3.61 million babies in 2020, down 4% from the year before.

“Getting back to where we were before the pandemic is a very bad place,” Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, told the Wall Street Journal. “We’ve got a larger problem here.”