Life Expectancy in the United States – Now and Then

Not surprisingly, life expectancy in the United States, as in other parts of the world, has changed substantially over the years. Historically, life expectancy has risen – sometimes rather rapidly from one decade to the next – but in recent years, it has declined in the U.S. According to experts, this is largely due to the rapid increase in deaths due to illegal drug use. As we consider where we are, individually, in the life expectancy spectrum, it is interesting to see what life expectancy in the United States is now compared to what it was over decades past. Let’s take a look:

Life Expectancy in the United States Now

Many factors affect how long people live. Gender, race, family health history, place of residence, access to healthcare, and a person’s occupation are just a few factors that come to mind. So, any life expectancy figures are derived from a broad spectrum of variances; and those figures take a couple of years to be calculated and reported. That said, the U.S. overall life expectancy in calendar year 2016 was 78.6 years. This is according to two recent reports, one from BMJ and one from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a branch of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number represents the second straight yearly decline in life expectancy, a fact that Robert Anderson, chief of the NCHS’s mortality statistics branch, called “disturbing”. In fact, this was the first 2-year decline in life expectancy since 1962 and 1963. Again, experts believe that drug use, including the expanding Opioid epidemic, appears to be a major contributing factor.

Life Expectancy in the United States Then

In fact, the U.S. had the highest life expectancy worldwide as recently as 1960 but has been losing ground ever since. The U.S. now ranks behind Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, among many others. Historically, however, life expectancy in the United States has seen substantial gains decade after decade, due in large part to advances in overall quality of life and medical care.

Looking back, according to statistics shared on, life expectancy for a white male born in the United States in 1900 was 48.23 years. A white female born at that time was expected to live 51.08 years. (Women have, historically, had longer life expectancies than men.)

By 1950, life expectancy in the United States had risen to 66.31 years for white men; and 72.03 years for white women, a jump of more than twenty years since 1900. By 2000, white males born that year could expect to live 74.8 years, and white females could expect to live to age 80. Throughout history, non-whites have had lower life expectancies, usually lagging by about 5 years in recent times.

Centenarians on the Rise

On the extreme end of the spectrum, the U.S. Bureau of the Census reported that the number of people in the U.S. who attained age 100 had grown from 32,194 in 1980 to 71,944 in late 2010. This means there were 232 centenarians in an average group of one million U.S. inhabitants. It is too early to tell if this number is decreasing now.

Every Day Matters

What these numbers show, of course, is that life is finite and precious, and each day should be lived fully. Here at Stillinger Family Funeral Home in Greenfield, Indiana, we help families honor their loved ones and celebrate lives lived, no matter how long. To learn more, contact us at (317) 462-5536.

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