COVID-19 had a huge mortality impact in the US in 2020 and accounted for most of the overall reduction in 2020 life expectancy at birth. There were also extensive racial/ethnic disparities in the mortality impact of COVID-19 in 2020, with the Black and Latino populations experiencing reductions in life expectancy at birth over twice as large as that of the White population. Despite continued vulnerability of these populations, the hope was that widespread distribution of effective vaccines would mitigate the overall mortality impact and reduce racial/ethnic disparities in 2021. In this study, we quantify the mortality impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 2021 US period life expectancy by race and ethnicity and compare these impacts to those estimated for 2020. Our estimates indicate that racial/ethnic disparities have persisted, and that the US population experienced a decline in life expectancy at birth in 2021 of 2.2 years from 2019, 0.6 years more than estimated for 2020. The corresponding reductions estimated for the Black and Latino populations are slightly below twice that for Whites, suggesting smaller disparities than those in 2020. However, all groups experienced additional reductions in life expectancy at birth relative to 2020, and this apparent narrowing of disparities is primarily the result of Whites experiencing proportionately greater increases in mortality in 2021 compared with the corresponding increases in mortality for the Black and Latino populations in 2021. Estimated declines in life expectancy at age 65 increased slightly for Whites between 2020 and 2021 but decreased for both the Black and Latino populations, resulting in the same overall reduction (0.8 years) estimated for 2020 and 2021.
Author(s): Theresa Andrasfay, Noreen Goldman
Publication Date: 31 Aug 2022
Publication Site: PLOS ONE
Citation: Andrasfay T, Goldman N. Reductions in US life expectancy during the COVID-19 pandemic by race and ethnicity: Is 2021 a repetition of 2020? PLoS One. 2022 Aug 31;17(8):e0272973. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0272973. PMID: 36044413; PMCID: PMC9432732.
“A year of life expectancy lost doesn’t really give you a true sense of how serious this has been. Millions of life years were actually lost,” Eileen Crimmins, a professor at the University of Southern California who has researched changes in mortality, told CNN. “Covid is on track to cause more deaths than cancer or heart disease, and that’s important.”Most deaths due to Covid-19 have been among older adults, which would have a small effect on overall life expectancy.
But Theresa Andrasfay, a researcher at the University of Southern California who has published work on the potential impact of Covid-19 on life expectancy, notes that while deaths among younger adults may be less common, the numbers are still substantial.
Abstract: COVID-19 has resulted in a staggering death toll in the United States: over 215,000 by mid-October 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black and Latino Americans have experienced a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, reflecting persistent structural inequalities that increase risk of exposure to COVID-19 and mortality risk for those infected. We estimate life expectancy at birth and at age 65 y for 2020, for the total US population and by race and ethnicity, using four scenarios of deaths—one in which the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred and three including COVID-19 mortality projections produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Our medium estimate indicates a reduction in US life expectancy at birth of 1.13 y to 77.48 y, lower than any year since 2003. We also project a 0.87-y reduction in life expectancy at age 65 y. The Black and Latino populations are estimated to experience declines in life expectancy at birth of 2.10 and 3.05 y, respectively, both of which are several times the 0.68-y reduction for Whites. These projections imply an increase of nearly 40% in the Black−White life expectancy gap, from 3.6 y to over 5 y, thereby eliminating progress made in reducing this differential since 2006. Latinos, who have consistently experienced lower mortality than Whites (a phenomenon known as the Latino or Hispanic paradox), would see their more than 3-y survival advantage reduced to less than 1 y.