US life expectancy falls for 2nd year in a row

The continued death toll from COVID led to another drop in life expectancy in 2021. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Despite the availability of life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, so many people died in the second year of the pandemic in the U.S. that the nation’s life expectancy dropped for a second year in a row last year, according to a new analysis.

The analysis of provisional government statistics found U.S. life expectancy fell by just under a half a year in 2021, adding to a dramatic plummet in life expectancy that occurred in 2020. Public health experts had hoped the vaccines would prevent another drop the following year.

“The finding that instead we had a horrible loss of life in 2021 that actually drove the life expectancy even lower than it was in 2020 is very disturbing,” says Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor of population health and health equity at Virginia Commonwealth University, who help conduct the analysis. “It speaks to an extensive loss of life during 2021.”

Many of the deaths occurred in people in the prime of their lives, Woolf says, and drove the overall U.S. life expectancy to fall to 76.6 years — the lowest in at least 25 years.

“Shame on the U.S.,” says Noreen Goldman, a demographer at Princeton University who wasn’t involved in the research. “It just continues to boggle my mind how poorly we’ve come through this pandemic. And I find that disgraceful.”

The 2021 drop came after U.S life expectancy Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

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