The Covid-19 pandemic set US life expectancy back by years, but new research shows that the country has been falling behind for decades. In 1950, the US had the 12th longest life expectancy among certain populous countries, with more than half a million residents, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health. There was a 3.5-year difference between the US and Norway, which had the longest life expectancy at the time.
By 2019, the life expectancy gap between the US and the highest-performing nation – now Hong Kong – had grown to more than six years, putting the US in 40th place among populous countries. The Covid-19 pandemic widened that gap even more, as the US had more deaths from the virus than any other country and has been slower to recover. In 2020, the US ranked 46th and had a 7.8-year gap from the highest-performing nation, according to the study. Life expectancy was 77.4 years in the US that year, compared with 85.2 years in Hong Kong, according to data from the United Nations.
Life expectancy is a “summary measure of our health,” said study author Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health. It’s not the only way to gauge the quality of life in a particular place, but it does tend to mirror trends in other health-related metrics, he said.
Excerpts from CNN