US life expectancy rose in 2022 but not to pre-pandemic levels

Life expectancy is slowly crawling back up

Birthday cake with candles.
Life expectancy increased by 1.1 years between 2021 and 2022
(Image credit: kirin_photo / Getty Images)

The Covid-19 pandemic landed a substantial blow to life expectancy in the U.S., and while life expectancy has been slowly increasing once again, it is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. According to provisional data by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), life expectancy increased by 1.1 years to 77.5 in 2022 compared to 76.4 in 2021. "The good news is that life expectancy increased for the first time in two years," Elizabeth Arias, co-author of the paper, told NPR. "The not-so-good news is that the increase in life expectancy only accounted for less than 50% of the loss that was experienced between 2019 and 2021."

While Covid deaths have gone down, it is still the top cause of death in the U.S. "Holding everything else constant, we'd need to see another large decline in Covid mortality for life expectancy to increase," Arias told CNN. Along with fewer Covid deaths, there were also fewer deaths caused by cancer, heart disease, homicide and unintentional injuries, including drug overdoses. On the flip side, life expectancy would have been higher "had there not been a rise in deaths from pneumonia and the flu, malnutrition, kidney disease, birth defects and perinatal deaths," NBC News reported. Life expectancy varied between races with American Indians and Alaska Natives having the largest increases but still having the shortest expectancies. 

While not listed in the top ten causes of death, the number of suicide deaths rose to its highest rate since 1941 with "increases pretty much across the board," Sally Curtin, who co-authored a separate report the CDC also released Wednesday, told PBS. Almost 50,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2022, with men four times more likely than women to die by suicide. However, the suicide rate increased twice as much for women in 2022, especially among white women and those between 25 and 34. The good news is that the suicide rate decreased among youth.

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