In 1980, life expectancy at birth in the U.S. and in comparably large and wealthy countries was similar, but over recent decades, life expectancy improved by much more in peer nations than it has in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic increased mortality and premature death rates in the U.S. by more than it did in most peer countries, widening a gap that already existed before the pandemic.
This chart collection examines how life expectancy in the U.S. compares to that of other similarly large and wealthy countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Life expectancy in the U.S. decreased by 1.3 years from 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic to 2022, whereas in peer countries life expectancies fell by an average of 0.5 years in this period. Life expectancy began rebounding from the effects of the pandemic earlier in 2021 in most peer nations. While life expectancy in the U.S. increased by 1.1 years from 2021 to 2022, U.S. life expectancy is still well below pre-pandemic levels and continues to lag behind life expectancy in comparable countries, on average.The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy among large, wealthy countries while it far outspends its peers on healthcare Click To Tweet
In 2022, life expectancy partially rebounded in the U.S. while stabilizing in most comparable countries
Life expectancy in the U.S. and peer countries generally increased from 1980 to 2019, but decreased in most countries in 2020 due to COVID-19. From 2021 to 2022, life expectancy at birth began to rebound in most comparable countries while it continued to decline in the U.S. During this period, the U.S. had a higher rate of excess mortality per capita and a larger increase in premature mortality per capita than peer countries as a result of COVID-19.
In 2022, the CDC estimates life expectancy at birth in the U.S. increased to 77.5 years, up 1.1 years from 76.4 years in 2021, but still down 1.3 years from 78.8 years in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The average life expectancy at birth among comparable countries was 82.2 years in 2022, down 0.1 years from 2021 and down 0.5 years from 2019. Life expectancy varies considerably within the U.S., though life expectancy in all U.S. states falls below the average for comparable countries.
U.S. life expectancy growth in 2022 was mostly driven by a decline in COVID-19 mortality. Still, COVID-19 erased nearly two decades of life expectancy progress in the U.S., becoming similar to 2004 estimates, whereas the average life expectancy for comparable countries is down only marginally, to 2018 levels. Peer countries generally experienced smaller declines in life expectancy than the U.S. at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and many even witnessed slight life expectancy growth in 2021 and 2022.
The life expectancy data presented here are period life expectancy estimates based on excess mortality or the observed mortality rate in a given year compared to previous years. Period life expectancy at birth represents the mortality experience of a hypothetical cohort if current conditions persisted into the future and not the mortality experience of a birth cohort. On the other hand, cohort life expectancy estimates, or estimates of how long people born in a year are expected to live, are a combination of historical and projected mortality rates for a birth cohort with the assumption that mortality rates will improve in the future. As a result, cohort life expectancy estimates are higher than period life expectancy estimates and less reflective of changes in mortality in the present.
Among peer countries, the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy at birth for both women and men
In the U.S. and all other comparable countries, women tend to live longer than men. However, the U.S. ranks lowest in life expectancy for both men and women among countries with high GDP per capita.
The life expectancy gap between men and women is wider in the U.S. than in comparable countries
In 2022, relative to the previous year, life expectancy at birth for men increased by 1.3 years in the U.S. and increased by 0.1 years in comparable countries, on average. Life expectancy at birth increased by 0.9 years for women in the U.S. and decreased by about 0.2 years for women in comparable countries, on average.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. experienced less rapid increases in life expectancy for both men and women than comparable countries, on average. The gap in life expectancy between women and men in the U.S. has been wider than the gender gap in comparable countries, on average, since 2012. In 2019, life expectancy differences between women and men were 5.1 years in the United States and 4.3 years in comparable countries. This difference increased to 5.8 years in 2021 in the U.S. and 4.6 years in comparable countries due to COVID-19. Despite the partial rebound in U.S. life expectancy in 2022, the life expectancy gap between women and men only dropped to 5.4 years while the average gap in comparable countries declined to 4.4 years.
The disparity in life expectancy between the U.S. and peer countries persists 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 health 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 at older ages and becomes more pronounced as a share of overall life expectancy as people get older.
In 2022, comparable country average life expectancy exceeded life expectancy in the U.S. by 5.2% at birth to 8.9% at age 65 for women and from 6.9% at birth to 8.4% at age 65 for men.
The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy among large, wealthy countries while it far outspends its peers on healthcare
On a per person basis, U.S. health spending is nearly double that of similarly large and wealthy nations. In 2022, the U.S. spent over $4,000 more per capita on healthcare than the next highest spending country. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy among peer countries.
In 1980, the U.S. and comparable countries had similar life expectancies and health spending, but the trends have diverged in the last few decades
Among peer nations, the U.S. has the highest per person healthcare spending, reaching an estimated $12,555 per capita in 2022 based on National Health Expenditure (NHE) data. However, the higher spending on healthcare in the U.S. does not translate into longer lifespans. Back in 1980, life expectancy and per capita healthcare spending levels in the U.S. were similar to those in comparison countries. However, recently healthcare spending has grown faster in the U.S. than in its peers, while life expectancy grew slower in the U.S. than in peer countries until 2022.
In 2022, the U.S., which substantially outspent its peers and experienced a partial rebound in life expectancy from COVID-19, still had the lowest life expectancy, and Japan, the country with the lowest per person health spending, had the highest life expectancy among similarly large and wealthy nations.
Life expectancy data in this analysis were gathered from the CDC; the OECD, the Australian Bureau of Statistics; the German Federal Statistical Office; INSEE; the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare; Statbel; Statistics Canada; Statistics Netherlands; Statistics Sweden; the Swiss Federal Statistical Office; and the U.K. Office for National Statistics. Life expectancy data for all countries are either estimated or provisional. Numbers on charts may not average to the comparable country average due to rounding. OECD life expectancy data is unavailable for Australia in 1980. OECD life expectancy data have a break in series for Canada in 1980, Germany in 1991, Switzerland and Belgium in 2011, and France in 2013. U.K. life expectancy data for both 2021 and 2022 come from the U.K. Office for National Statistics.
Health spending data in this analysis were gathered from the OECD for all countries. For health spending data, the 1991 data point for Germany is unavailable; from 1980-1990, health spending data in France is only available for 1980, 1985, and 1990. Therefore, data for France is only shown from 1990 onward. OECD health spending data have a break in series for Austria in 1990 and 2004; Belgium in 1995 and 2003; France in 1995, 2003, 2006, and 2013; Germany in 1992; Japan in 2011; the Netherlands in 1998; Sweden in 1993 and 2011; and Switzerland in 1995. Health spending data for all countries is either estimated or provisional.
The Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF are partnering to monitor how well the U.S. healthcare system is performing in terms of quality and cost.