COVID-19 Reduced U.S. life expectancy, especially among Black and Latino populations

Jan. 15, 2021 9:53 a.m.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which?claimed?more than 336,000?lives in?the United States?in?2020, has significantly affected?life expectancy,?University of Southern California?(USC) and?Princeton University?researchers?have found.?

3 hearts with declining power levels on a covid form

Princeton researchers have projected that, due to?the pandemic deaths?last year,?life expectancy?at birth?for Americans?will shorten?by more than one year.? That?is?the?largest single-year?decline in life expectancy?in at least 40 years?and?is?the?lowest life expectancy?estimated?since?2003.

The?researchers?project?that, due to?the pandemic deaths?last year,?life expectancy?at birth?for Americans?will shorten?by?1.13 years?to 77.48 years, according to?their?study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.??

That?is?the?largest single-year?decline in life expectancy?in at least 40 years?and?is?the?lowest life expectancy?estimated?since?2003.?The?projected?pandemic-related drop in?life expectancy is?about?10 times?as large as?the declines seen in recent years.?

The?declines?in life?expectancy?are?likely?even?starker?among?Black and Latino communities. For Blacks,?the?researchers project their life expectancy?would?shorten by?2.10 years?to?72.78?years,?and for Latinos,?by?3.05 years?to?78.77?years.??

Whites?are also impacted,?but?their?projected decline is?much?smaller — 0.68 years — to?a life expectancy of?77.84?years.?

Overall, the?gap?in?life expectancy?between Blacks and whites?is projected to?widen by 40%, from 3.6?to?more than?5?years — further evidence of the?disease’s?disparate impact on diverse communities.??

“Our study analyzes the effect of this?exceptional number of deaths on life expectancy for the entire nation,?as well as the consequences for marginalized groups,” said study author?Theresa?Andrasfay, a postdoctoral?fellow?at the USC?Leonard?Davis School of Gerontology,?who earned her Ph.D. at Princeton in 2019. “The COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate effect on the life expectancy of Black and Latino Americans likely has to do with their greater exposure through their workplace or extended family contacts, in addition to receiving poorer health care, leading to more infections and worse outcomes.”?

COVID-19?appears to have?eliminated?many of the gains made?in?closing the?Black-white?life expectancy gap?since 2006. Latinos, who have consistently experienced lower mortality than whites — a phenomenon known as?the?“Latino paradox” — would see their more than three-year survival advantage?over whites?reduced to less than one year.?

“The huge decline in life expectancy for Latinos is especially shocking given that Latinos have lower rates than the?white and Black populations of most chronic conditions that are risk factors for COVID-19,” said study co-author?Noreen Goldman, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Demography and Public Affairs?at the?Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. “The generally good health of Latinos prior to the pandemic, which should have protected them from COVID-19, has laid bare the risks associated with social and economic disadvantage.”?

The study’s?authors?estimated?life expectancy at birth and at age 65 for 2020 for the total U.S.?population and by race and ethnicity. They used?four scenarios of?deaths?—?one in which the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred and three?others that include?COVID-19 mortality projections?by?the?Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an?independent global health research center at the University of Washington.?

“The bigger reductions in life expectancy for the Black and Latino populations result in part from a disproportionate number of deaths at younger ages for these groups,” Goldman said.?“These findings underscore the need for protective behaviors and programs to reduce potential viral exposure among younger individuals who may not perceive themselves to be at high risk.”?

Life expectancy as an indicator of population health?

Of the analyzed deaths?for which?race?and ethnicity have been reported to the National Center for Health Statistics, 21% were Black and 22% Latino.?Black and Latino Americans have experienced a disproportionate burden of?coronavirus?infections?and?deaths, reflecting persistent structural? inequalities?that?heighten?risk of exposure to?and death from?COVID-19.

The researchers?say?life?expectancy?is?an important?indicator of a?population’s?health?and?an informative tool for examining the impact of COVID-19 on survival.?

In the decades before the?COVID-19 pandemic, annual improvements in U.S.?life expectancy had been small, but overall life?expectancy?had?rarely declined.?An exception was the annual?reduction?of 0.1 year for three consecutive years —?2015, 2016, and 2017 — which?were?attributed?in part?to?increases in?so-called?“deaths of despair”?among?middle-aged whites?related to?drug overdoses, including opioids, as well as?alcohol-related liver disease and suicide.??

The last major?pandemic?to significantly reduce life expectancy in a short period of time?was?the 1918?influenza?pandemic,?which?research?indicates?reduced life expectancy by?an extraordinary?7-12 years.

As of Jan. 13, more than?10?million Americans?had?received?their first COVID-19 vaccination dose,?according to the?U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.?But the vaccines may not be enough to?immediately?reverse the?impact of the disease on U.S.?life expectancy.?

“While the?arrival?of effective vaccines is hopeful,?the U.S.?is currently experiencing more daily COVID-19 deaths than?at?any other point in the?pandemic,”?Andrasfay?said. “Because of that, and because?we expect?there?will be?long-term health?and economic?effects that may result in?worse mortality for many years to come, we expect there will be lingering effects on life expectancy in 2021.”?

“That said,” she added, “no?cohort?may ever experience a reduction in life expectancy of the magnitude attributed to COVID-19 in?2020.”?

The?study authors?say?they are now studying?occupational exposures?to COVID-19?by race and ethnicity?to further comprehend?its disproportionate?impact.?

Reductions in 2020 US life expectancy due to COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact on the Black and Latino populations” first appeared online Jan. 14 in PNAS (DOI:?10.1073/pnas.2014746118).?The research was supported by the?National Institute on Aging?(grant no. T32AG000037).?