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Life Expectancy Drops Dramatically Due to COVID Deaths!

Life expectancy drops dramatically, especially for men (73.2). That's three years in a row! The gap between men and women is mind boggling.

Americans are dropping dead at an unprecedented rate. Men are especially vulnerable. A male baby born now has a life expectancy of 73.2 years. That is dramatically different for a female baby, who can expect to live to 79.1 years. That’s roughly a 6-year gap between men and women and it has been getting worse (JAMA Internal Medicine, Nov. 13, 2023). The difference hasn’t been this wide in over two decades. According to the article just cited, “For more than a century, US women have outlived US men, attributable to lower cardiovascular and lung cancer death rates related largely to differences in smoking behavior.” What’s changed? Historically, life expectancy drops because of really big, bad events, like world war. The big, bad thing that happened early in 2020 was COVID-19. Men were hit especially hard.

It’s Not All COVID:

The gender life expectancy gap cannot all be blamed on COVID-19. Although men do seem to be more vulnerable to death from the virus, there are other factors. According to the article in JAMA Internal Medicine, men are more likely to die from homicide, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer disease than women.

But the big difference beyond COVID is drug overdose:

“This analysis finds that COVID-19 and the drug overdose epidemic were major contributors to the widening gender gap in life expectancy in recent years. Men experienced higher COVID-19 death rates for likely multifactorial reasons, including higher burden of comorbidities and differences in health behaviors and socioeconomic factors, such as labor force participation, incarceration, and homelessness.”

Life Expectancy Drops Starting in 2020:

Until COVID-19, life expectancy in the US had been rising gradually. In 2019 overall life expectancy was 78.8 years. In 2020 it fell to 77.0 years. That was a decrease of 1.8 years. If you were a demographer, that would represent a huge and horrifying change! It was the biggest drop since World War II.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (August 31, 2022), life expectancy for US citizens in 2021 was 76.1 years. That was the second year in a row that life expectancy fell dramatically. A life expectancy of 76.1 years takes us back to where we were in 1996.

The people at the NCHS above report that:

“The 0.9 year drop in life expectancy in 2021, along with a 1.8 year drop in 2020, was the biggest two-year decline in life expectancy since 1921-1923.”

COVID deaths are the primary reason for these dismal stats. We are cautiously optimistic that we have seen the worst of the decline. There is even some hope that life expectancy for 2022 may inch up (medRxiv, March 1, 2023).

Leading Causes of Death in America:

In 2021, the leading causes of death in the United States were heart disease, cancer and COVID-19. There was no change in the big three from 2020.

In 2021, 3,464,231 people died in the United States. That was 80,502 more deaths that in 2020. COVID-19 was responsible for that increased mortality. In 2020 it was determined that 350,831 people died from the coronavirus. That jumped 18.8% to 416,893 in 2021. Again, COVID deaths were primarily responsible for the increase.

According to the CDC (May 5, 2023):

“During 2022, COVID-19 was listed as the underlying or contributing cause of 244,986 deaths.

That makes COVID the 3rd leading cause of death in the US for three years in a row.

Putting Mortality Stats Into Perspective:

You may find this surprising, but the death toll does not usually change very much from one year to the next. If anything, we expect life expectancy to go up a bit from year to year. That has certainly been the historic trend for decades.

In 1950, life expectancy in the US was 68.14 years. By 1960 it had climbed to 69.84 years. In 1970 it was 70.78 years and by 1980 it had jumped to 73.70 years. In 1990 life expectancy was 75.19 years and by 2000 it was 76.75 years. We kept extending life expectancy in 2010 to 78.49 years. We hit a peak in 2019 of 78.79 years.

Everything reversed in 2020. That’s when COVID deaths caused a dramatic drop in life expectancy of 1.8 years. We know that a lot of people deny that the reversal was caused by COVID deaths. But deaths are the ultimate metric. Something changed early in 2020 and that something was clearly the coronavirus.

How Do We Compare to Other Countries?

Americans like to think that we are # 1 in just about everything. When it comes to life expectancy, however, we are not even close.

In the United States, Life Expectancy Drops. What About Other Countries?

To put life expectancy into context, men in the US dropped from 74.2 years in 2020 to 73.5 in 2021. Women dropped from 79.9 years in 2020 to 79.3 in 2021.


In Japan, however, the average life expectancy was 81.5 years for men in 2021 and 87.6 years for women. The life expectancy declines due to COVID were much smaller in Japan than in the US.


People like to compare citizens of the US to citizens of Australia. The two countries have a lot in common…except when it comes to life expectancy.

Life expectancy actually went up in Australia during the pandemic. Men went from 81.2 years in 2020 to 81.3 years in 2021. Women went from 85.3 years to 85.4 years in 2021.

What About Other Countries?

You may be saying that Australia has a very good healthcare system. Some say it is the best in the world.

According to the government:

“Medicare and the public hospital system provide free or low-cost access for all Australians to most of these health care services [primary care services delivered by GPs, medical specialists, allied health workers and nurses]. Private health insurance gives you choice outside the public system. For private health care both in and out of hospital, you contribute towards the cost of your health care.”

It’s not just Australia, though. According to an article in STAT (Nov. 13, 2023):

“Countries such as Japan, Korea, Portugal, the U.K., and Italy all enjoy a life expectancy of 80 years or more. Countries such as Turkey (78.6) and China (78.2) also fare better.”

You do know that we pay far more for health care than just about any other country in the world. We do not appear to be getting our money’s worth.

What About Vaccination and Other Countries?

If you read some of the comments below this article you will discover that a great many people attribute the life expectancy drops in the United States to COVID vaccines. In other words, COVID-19 is not really responsible for so many deaths in the U.S. They absolutely believe that the vaccines are “poison.” The anti-vaxxers are convinced that the million+ deaths and lower life expectancy stats are due to COVID vaccines.

So, how does the US compare to other countries when it comes to vaccination? If you visit Statista.com you will discover “vaccine doses administered worldwide.” It lists vaccination per 100 people. Here are the top countries for vaccination in order, starting with the highest at the top:

  • Cuba
  • Japan
  • Taiwan
  • Uruguay
  • Peru
  • Belgium
  • Argentina
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • France
  • Denmark
  • Ireland
  • Malaysia
  • Greece
  • United States

Here is another place to track COVID vaccinations (NewYork Times, March 13, 2023):

In the graph that is provided, you can see “full” vaccination as a percentage of the population. Here is a selected list:

  • U.A.E.        >99%
  • Hong Kong  91%
  • Singapore    90%
  • Spain            87%
  • Portugal       87%
  • Australia      85%
  • Canada         84%
  • Japan            83%
  • Norway        76%
  • UK                 76%
  • US                  68%

If the vaccination rate is responsible for the dramatic drop in life expectancy, we should have seen countries like Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and Japan demonstrating far greater reductions in life expectancy than the United States.

Here are countries with the highest recent average life expectancy data from Statista:

  • Japan             Men= 82 yrs           Women= 88 yrs
  • Norway          Men= 82 yrs           Women= 85 yrs
  • Singapore      Men= 82 yrs           Women= 86 yrs
  • Australia        Men= 81 yrs            Women= 85 yrs
  • New Zealand Men= 81 yrs           Women= 84 yrs
  • Canada           Men= 80 yrs           Women= 84 yrs
  • UK                   Men= 79 yrs           Women= 83 yrs
  • Germany        Men= 79 yrs           Women = 83 yrs

The United States did not make this list…but from the data provided at the top of the page, the life expectancy for men has fallen to 73.2 years and for women it is now 79.1. Now, go back and look at vaccination rates for various countries. If you still believe that COVID-19 vaccinations are responsible for the dramatic drop in life expectancy in the United States over the last two years, we will not try to convince you otherwise.

Why Are COVID Deaths So Divisive?

Why do so many people doubt the stats on COVID deaths? You would think that such information would be pretty straightforward. The CDC actually provides a very specific Guidance for Certifying Deaths Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Many visitors to this website remain skeptical of the data collection, however.

Deaths don’t change very much from year to year unless there is something really dramatic going on. You may wish to look at this revealing article on “Mortality in the United States: Past, Present, and Future” (PennWharton Budget Model, June 27, 2016). You will see that starting around 1900 there has been a steady trend: 1) death rate has decreased and 2) life expectancy has increased.

What Happened in 1918?

There was a dramatic reversal in 1918. What happened? You got it. The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919!

There was a smaller blip on the mortality radar screen in 1936-1937. We wondered what happened to cause an increase in mortality and a decrease in life expectancy.

According to the U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History, that was the time of another influenza pandemic:

“Special attention is called to a year such as 1936 when, in certain regions among the civilian population, influenza reached the level of sharp epidemics during the early months; then in December the peak of the 1936-37 pandemic spread was rapidly approached. The first was influenza B, the second influenza A. The latter was worldwide and typically influenzal. Moreover, it was identified etiologically in many parts of the world.”

Since then, though, the trend has been surprisingly steady towards lower mortality. So, for roughly 100 years the number of annual deaths was gradually going down as life expectancy increased. There were some ups and downs during the Great Depression but the two biggest blips were due to viral infections. Here is a link to the data so you can see the curves for yourself.

That clearly changed in 2020.

Reader Response to the JAMA Data on COVID Deaths:

Here is a link to our article:

Why Are Deaths From COVID So Controversial?
How many people have died from SARS-CoV-2? Many people don’t believe it’s that many. New data suggests deaths from COVID are even higher.

Readers Remain Skeptical About COVID Deaths:

We will not refute any of the statements made by readers. We just want to give you a sense of what some people have said in response to the data published in JAMA.

Sandy says the numbers are being manipulated:

“I personally know of at least 10 deaths that were counted as COVID deaths but were actually such things as a motorcycle accident or car wreck death. Several individuals had to fight with the authorities to change the reason for death because their parents tested negative for the disease and died from natural causes.

“In my opinion, much of the disbelief stems from cases like these. I also know several people who work in the medical system who tell me that we are not being told the truth about MANY things (such as the # of hospital beds available).

“The death rate is STILL (last I checked) less than 1% and that is a more viable figure to focus on, in my opinion. I know of many who had mild cases, have no lingering side effects and have moved on with their lives. More is known now so the death rate is lower than it was in the beginning.”

David and Jennifer suggest that the increase in COVID deaths might be caused by stress:

“This doesn’t appear to take into account the increased mortality that stress alone induces. I don’t know how other nations compare to the level of political stress that has impacted the USA this year but I would be willing to bet that more of us have dealt directly with the effects of that form of stress than have dealt directly with the COVID-19 virus. Perhaps this can help explain the increased number of deaths in the U.S. this year.”

COVID Deaths from the CDC:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that the mortality stats it cites may be an underestimate:

“Measures of excess deaths have been used to estimate the impact of public health pandemics or disasters, particularly when there are questions about under ascertainment of deaths directly attributable to a given event or cause. Excess deaths are defined as the number of persons who have died from all causes, in excess of the expected number of deaths for a given place and time.”

According to the CDC:

“Estimates of the numbers of deaths directly attributable to COVID-19 might be limited by factors such as the availability and use of diagnostic testing (including postmortem testing) and the accurate and complete reporting of cause of death information on the death certificate. Excess death analyses are not subject to these limitations because they examine historical trends in all-cause mortality to determine the degree to which observed numbers of deaths differ from historical norms.”

Here is an article in the BMJ (June 24, 2021) describing “Life expectancy in the wake of COVID-19).”

“In 2020, covid-19 became the third leading cause of death in the United States and was thus expected to substantially lower life expectancy for that year. The US had more deaths from covid-19 than any other country in the world and among the highest per capita mortality rates.”

The Conclusions:

“The mortality outcomes examined in this study, in the research literature, and in the daily news represent only part of the burden of covid-19; for every death, a larger number of infected individuals experience acute illness, and many face long term health and life complications. Whether some of these long term complications will affect how quickly life expectancy in the US will rebound in the coming years is unclear. Morbidity and mortality during the pandemic have wider effects on families, neighborhoods, and communities. One study estimated that each death leaves behind an average of nine bereaved family members.”

Your Turn!

What is your perspective on 1,153,910 COVID deaths reported in the US? Are you concerned that the gender gap in life expectancy between women and men reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, Nov. 13, 2023 is now nearly six years? To refresh your memory, the life-expectancy stat for men is now 73.2 years. That compares to 81.3 years for men in Australia.

Do you think the SARS-CoV-2 virus contributed to the dramatic drop in life expectancy over the last three years, or do you think the excess deaths are due to other causes? What might those be?

We would like to read your perspective in the comment section below. Please be respectful. If you think this article is worthy of sharing, please scroll to the top of the page and send it to friends, family and others via the icons for email, Facebook or Twitter. Thank you for supporting our work. Please consider reading our articles without advertising by going ad-free at this link or encouraging others to sign up for our free newsletter.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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