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Race, Gender, Region: Understanding the Decline in U.S. Life Expectancy

Author: Thomas J. Bollyky, Senior Fellow for Global Health, Economics, and Development
December 16, 2016
Council on Foreign Relations


This is a guest post on CFR's Renewing America blog. See full text.

Last week, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, released its 2015 mortality statistics, which showed U.S. life expectancy fell from 78.9 to 78.8 years over the prior year.  This means roughly 86,000 more deaths last year in the United States than in 2014, a 1.2 percent jump in the U.S. death rate.  These startling results generated substantial media attention, building on the election-year narrative of the declining fortunes of Americans, especially working class white men.

As the chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the NCHS has pointed out, no one really knows what led to the downward turn in U.S. mortality in 2015 or if that trend will continue (the preliminary results from 2016 apparently suggest otherwise).  So it is worth putting these results in the context of long-term trends in U.S. life expectancy and comparing them to other nations. Three lessons emerge when you do.

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