New Report Confirms U.S. Life Expectancy has Declined to Lowest Level Since 1996

U.S. Life Expectancy decreased in 2021 for the second consecutive year, according to final mortality data released today. The drop was primarily due to increases in COVID-19 and drug overdose deaths.  The data are featured in two new reports from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“Mortality in the United States: 2021” features the first public release of final mortality data for 2021, and the report documents that there were 3,464,231 total deaths in the United States during 2021 — 80,502 more than the total reported in 2020.

The death rate for the entire U.S. population increased by 5.3% from 835.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 2020 to 879.7 in 2021. As a result, life expectancy at birth for the U.S. population decreased from 77 years in 2020 to 76.4 years in 2021.

The 10 leading causes of death in 2021 were largely unchanged from 2020, except chronic liver disease and cirrhosis became the 9th leading cause of death in 2021 while influenza and pneumonia dropped from the list of 10 leading causes. Heart disease remained the leading cause of death in the United States, followed by cancer and COVID-19.

A second report released on Thursday, “Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 2001-2021,” showed that overdose deaths, which account for more than a third of all accidental deaths in the United States, have risen five-fold over the past two decades. The official number of drug overdose deaths among residents in the United States for 2021 was 106,699, nearly 16% higher than the 91,799 deaths in 2020.

Other Findings:

  • The drug overdose death rate was 32.4 overdose deaths per 100,000 in 2021, higher than 28.3 in 2020.
  • The rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol) increased 22% from 17.8 in 2020 to 21.8 in 2021.
  • From 2020 to 2021, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving cocaine increased 22% (from 6.0 to 7.3) and the rate for deaths involving psychostimulants with abuse potential (drugs such as methamphetamine) increased 33% (from 7.5 to 10.0).
  • The rate of drug overdose deaths involving heroin decreased 32% from 4.1 in 2020 to 2.8 in 2021.


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