Back in 1980, life expectancy at birth in the U.S. was similar to that of comparable countries. However, since then, the U.S. has gained just 4.9 years of life expectancy, while comparable countries have gained 7.7 years on average. This chart collection examines how life expectancy in the U.S. compares to other large and wealthy countries.
The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy at birth among comparable countries
Life expectancy at birth in the U.S is lower than comparable countries. In 2016, U.S. life expectancy was 78.6 years, compared to an average of 82.2 years for comparable countries. Life expectancy can be influenced by a number of factors, including those within the domain of the healthcare system (e.g., quality of care, access to preventive health services) as well factors largely outside the control of the health system (e.g. lifestyle, diet, violence and accidents).
The U.S. has seen slower growth in life expectancy than comparable countries
The U.S. and comparable countries once had similar life expectancy – in 1980, average life expectancy at birth was 73.7 years in the U.S. and 74.5 years in comparable countries. However, while the U.S. gained 4.9 years of life expectancy in the subsequent decades, the average comparable country has gained 7.7 years. The U.S. and most comparable countries experienced a slight decline in life expectancy in 2015. By 2016, life expectancy for these comparable countries rebounded to pre-2015 numbers, but in the U.S., such a bounce back did not occur and the decline continued for the second consecutive year. Life expectancy dropping in 2015 and 2016 represented not only the U.S.’s first decreases in the past 20 years but also the first consecutive 2-year decline in life expectancy since 1964. This anomaly is attributable in large part to a rising death rate among younger age groups; the death rate rose between 2014 and 2016 for age groups 15-24 (14.4%), 25-34 (19%), and 35-44 (9.7%). CDC research identified drug overdoses as a leading factor, with the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 (19.8 per 100,000) being 36% higher than the rate in 2014 (14.7).
The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy at birth for both women and men
As is the case in the U.S., women tend to live longer than men in comparable countries. However, for both men and women, the U.S. ranks as the lowest life expectancy at birth among large and wealthy countries.
Life expectancy for both men and women has increased more slowly in the U.S. than in comparable countries
Since 1980, life expectancy at birth for men has increased by 6.1 years in the U.S. and 8.8 years in comparable countries. Women in the U.S. have seen slower improvement, gaining 3.7 years of life expectancy at birth since 1980, compared to 6.5 years in comparable countries on average.
The difference in life expectancy at birth between women and men has recently increased in the U.S.
Although the difference in life expectancy at birth between women and men has decreased over time in both the U.S. and comparable countries, the gender differential recently ticked up slightly in the U.S., while continuing to decline in comparable countries on average.
The disparity in life expectancy between the U.S. and comparable countries continues at older ages
Since most people start to interact with the healthcare system more regularly as they get older, measuring life expectancy at older ages may provide a better sense of how well the system performs (though it is still influenced by how healthy people are when they reach older ages). The disparity between the U.S. and comparable countries continues – though is less pronounced – at older ages.
In the U.S., both Blacks and Whites have a shorter average life expectancy than the average of comparable countries
Although the racial gap in U.S. life expectancy has improved in recent years, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that Blacks continue to have a shorter life expectancy than Whites and Hispanics. Both Blacks and Whites have a shorter average life expectancy than the average of comparably wealthy and sizable countries. People of Hispanic origin in the U.S. have an average life expectancy closer to the average of other large and wealthy nations.