scorecardresearch Skip to main content

US life expectancy shortens for first time in decades

For the first time in decades, nationwide life expectancy in the US fell in 2015, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infants born in 2015 are expected to live on average to age 78.8 — a decline of 0.1 year from 2014. A decline in nationwide life expectancy at birth hasn’t happened in the US since 1993.

Earlier this year, the CDC reported that life expectancy among white Americans fell from 2013 to 2014, but at that time the average across all races was still on the rise.

The latest life expectancy data — which the CDC hasn’t yet broken down by race — add a new sense of urgency to those previous reports.


Men’s life expectancy fell from 76.5 to 76.3 years, while women’s fell from 81.3 to 81.2 years.

Death rates for both black and white men rose in 2015 by about 1 percent, and they rose 1.6 percent among white women.

While life expectancy declined nationally in 2015, it is not known whether it also dropped in Massachusetts. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that revealed the national decline did not include state-by-state data, and the most recent information available from Massachusetts goes up to only 2014.

The state data show life expectancy increasing steadily in Massachusetts for decades, and then plateauing in 2010. In each year from 2010 to 2014, life expectancy was either 80.8 or 80.9 years.

Massachusetts has long had one of the highest life expectancies in the country. In 2013, the Measure of America report, a compilation of health and education statistics by the Social Science Research Council, ranked Massachusetts fifth-highest in life expectancy, behind Hawaii, Minnesota, Connecticut, and California.

CDC researcher Dr. Jiaquan Xu, the 2015 report’s lead author, cited the opioid epidemic as a significant factor in the national decline.


“The last time there was a similar increase in mortality was in 1993,” he said. “At that time we had a combination of a bad flu year, and there was HIV and AIDS, along with homicides and accidents.”

Today, Xu added, “We’re seeing so many more preventable causes of death, and they’re significantly affecting mortality negatively.”

He specifically pointed to unintentional deaths: “Motor vehicle accidents have gone up 6 percent. And accidental poisoning increased 13 percent. And 97 percent of accidental poisoning was from drug overdoses and alcohol.

“What’s really significant is that these things are happening more to people of younger ages,” Xu added. Earlier deaths have a much starker effect on life expectancy estimates.

Meanwhile, the death rate for black women, Hispanic women, and Hispanic men remained unchanged from 2014 to 2015.