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U.S. Life Expectancy Stalled

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In my 27 Feb 2013 post, I speculated that U.S. life expectancies would soon peak and start going down. It seems the first part of that prediction has already come true. In CDC's National Vital Statistics Reports (61:6), based on preliminary data for 2011, we find that overall life expectancy at birth (all races, both sexes) in the U.S. was unchanged from 2010 to 2011, at 78.7 years. (See Table A, page 3 of report.)

This means that since 2009, U.S. life expectancy has risen just 0.1 year.

This leveling-off is not happening in other countries. In fact, life expectancies in Europe are blasting ahead at the incredible rate of two to three months per year and have been for quite a while.

This isn't the first time U.S. life expectancy has faltered. It fell from 75.8 to 75.5 between 1992 and 1993, and from 77.5 to 77.4 between 2004 and 2005. It's possible we'll recover again, of course, but a recent analysis by L. David Roper (Professor Emeritus of Physics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) suggests, to the contrary, that we're asymptotically approaching a max life expectancy of 79.1 years. A more elaborate projection based on 70 years of data is presented in "Stagnating Life Expectancies and Future Prospects in an Age of Uncertainty" by Denney et al. (Social Science Quarterly, Oct. 2012). It shows U.S. life expectancies increasing by only three years between now and 2055.

For more information on how U.S. health is trending (relative to other countries and relative to past U.S. history), I strongly recommend the following book, which comes via the National Academy of Sciences, from research funded by the National Institutes of Health. (If for some reason the link goes dead, try this link instead.)

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