Life expectancy is one of the most important and commonly cited indicators of population health — and in the United States, life expectancy is falling at a historic rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, life expectancy at birth declined by 1.5 years in 2020, the largest one-year decline since World War II.
The CDC attributes the decline to the COVID-19 pandemic and 93,000 drug overdose deaths — an all-time one-year high. Homicide, diabetes, and liver disease were also contributing factors. Here is a look at the states with the most drug overdose deaths in 2020.
While the national trend is alarming, there are considerable regional variations in life expectancy across the country. To highlight these differences, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed life expectancy at birth in each state. It is important to note that life expectancy figures are averages for the years 2017 through 2019 — the most recent period for which state-level data is available — so they are pre-pandemic. States are ranked by the average life expectancy at birth.
Depending on the state, average life expectancy at birth ranges from less than 75 years to over 82 — compared to the national average of 79.2 years. These variations are tied to a number of both economic and behavioral factors.
For example, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., and in nearly every state where life expectancy at birth is lower than the national average, the share of adults who smoke exceeds the 16.6% national average. Here is a look at the American cities where the most people smoke.
Income levels are also linked to life expectancy. Poverty, for example, presents challenges and stressors that can take a cumulative toll on both physical and mental health. Additionally, lower-income Americans are less able to afford adequate health care or a range of healthy options related to diet and lifestyle. Recent studies have shown that life expectancy among the wealthiest 1% of Americans exceeds that of the poorest 1% by well over a decade. In nearly every state with longer than average life expectancy, the poverty rate is below the 12.3% national average.