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5 May 2022

US now has the same life expectancy as China

The Covid-19 pandemic meant American life expectancy fell by nearly two years from 2019 to 2020.

By Nick Ferris

The US has had a hard pandemic. The country has the highest reported death toll of any country in the world, crossing the one million mark on 4 May. That’s equivalent to wiping out the population of the state of Rhode Island.

A reluctance to socially distance in many states, slow vaccine uptake (about 15 per cent of adults remained unvaccinated as recently as December 2021) and a high obesity rate have contributed to the country’s death toll. So profound has the impact been that it led US life expectancy to fall by between one and a half and two years between 2019 and 2020, according to several studies.

Life expectancy has declined in other countries as well, but nowhere so severely as the US. A study published in the BMJ estimated that US life expectancy fell by 1.87 years, compared with 0.22 years in peer countries including the UK, France and South Korea.

The fall is big enough that the US now has the same life expectancy as that of China: about 77 years. Indeed, it is likely that China’s life expectancy now exceeds that of the US. This is because US life expectancy is expected to have fallen yet further in 2021 to 76.6 years, according to a provisional analysis of health data published last month.

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