U.S. Life Expectancy Declines Again

Most experienced genealogists are aware that the average life expectancy of our relatives has increased over the years. Most of the increases can be attributed to major improvements in hygiene, medicine, and (in recent years) the decrease in the use of tobacco products. Sadly, in 2016 and 2017 the trend went in the opposite direction. Americans now have a slightly shorter life expectancy than they had three years ago and the trend is getting worse.

We are now seeing the longest sustained decline in expected life span at birth in a century, an appalling performance not seen in the United States since 1915 through 1918. That four-year period included World War I and a flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in the United States and perhaps 50 million worldwide.

Americans could expect to live 78.6 years at birth in 2017, down a tenth of a year from the 2016 estimate, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Men could anticipate a life span of 76.1 years, down a tenth of a year from 2016. Life expectancy for women in 2017 was 81.1 years, unchanged from the previous year.

Major contributors to the decrease in life expectancy include deaths from overdoses of drugs sold on the street such as fentanyl and heroin, as well as prescription narcotics.

The long-time killers of Americans actually became less of a problem. Deaths from heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Americans, which had been declining until 2011, continued to level off. Deaths from cancer continued their long, steady, downward trend.

You can read more in an article by Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post at https://wapo.st/2FLLrhN.


Thank you for reporting this important story! Family historians have reason to be aware of these matters of life and death. Our notebooks (or laptops) are full of stories about lives well lived and also of lives needlessly cut short because of war, famine, pestilence, etc. We know the costs and we know that many of these losses were not and are not inevitable. That knowledge should make us part of the solution!

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The SSA publishes an interesting table https://www.ssa.gov/oact/STATS/table4c6.html that provides the average years to death for each year of age. For those of us who are “old folks”, it’s good to know that statistically we should live longer than the average newborn.


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