Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Chart of the Day
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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them