Life Expectancy Drops in United States, but Not for Everyone

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has found that life expectancy in the United States has dropped. However, where you live, how much savings you have, your own genes & health habits, and your age can profoundly impact how long YOU will actually live.

life expectancy drops

Why is Life Expectancy Important to Financial Planning?

At a basic level, you will need to estimate your life expectancy in order to create a retirement plan. You need to “know” (estimate/guess) how long you are going to live (among many other things) in order to determine how much savings you may need to fund your life adequately.

Most financial planning tools will estimate your longevity, but the NewRetirement Planner gives you control over that number. And, you can use a life expectancy calculator to make a more accurate guess as how long you will live.

As you will see below, understanding life expectancy at different ages, in different geographic locations, and for different races may also impact decisions about where and how to live.

Life Expectancy at Birth Takes Biggest Decline Since 1923

The latest data from NCHS has found that U.S. life expectancy has declined to 76.4 years, the shortest it’s been in nearly two decades.

The decline from 77.0 to 76.1 years – took U.S. life expectancy at birth to its lowest level since 1996. The 0.9 year drop in life expectancy in 2021, along with a 1.8 year drop in 2020, was the biggest two-year decline in life expectancy since 1921-1923.

Deaths from COVID-19 and drug overdoses, most notably synthetic opioids like fentanyl, were the primary drivers of the drop in life expectancy. Deaths by suicide and from liver disease, or cirrhosis, caused by alcohol also increased — shortening the average American life span.

Good news though: There has been almost no decline in life expectancy for 65 year olds

Guess what? The longer you live, the longer you are going to live.

The statistics cited above about the big decline in life expectancy are for everyone of all ages. However, the most recent data from the CDC finds that for an average 65 year old, life expectancy has changed very little if at all.

  • For both sexes, life expectancy is currently 18.4 years (83.4 years old). This is a decline of just .1 year from the previous year.
  • For men, average life expectancy is 17 years (82 years old). This is unchanged from the previous year.
  • For women, average life expectancy is 19.7 years (84.7 years old). This is a .1 year decrease from the previous year.

Longevity and Net Worth

Guess what? People with more money live longer, on average.

It is probably not actually a surprise that wealth leads to a longer life. But, the details of how much longer may surprise you. Researchers at Harvard found that the richest American men live 15 years longer than the poorest men, while the richest American women live 10 years longer than the poorest women. That is quite a gap.

One of the study’s authors, David Cutler, the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics, is quoted as saying, “There’s no income [above] which higher income is not associated with greater longevity, and there’s no income below which less income is not associated with lower survival.” He continued, “It was already known that life expectancy increased with income, so we’re not the first to show that, but … everyone thought you had to hit a plateau at some point, or that it would plateau at the bottom, but that’s not the case.”

The more savings you have, the longer you will live (statistically speaking)

Another study from Northwestern University used data from the Midlife in the United States project, which focuses on aging. They found that for every $50,000 accumulated by middle age, the risk of death drops by 5%. Additionally, people who had saved $139,000 or more also increased their chances of outliving siblings by 13%.

Where You Live and Life Expectancy

The CDC data shows that life expectancy varies tremendously among states. Let’s take a look at the states with the longest life expectancy from birth and also for those who are 65.

States with the longest life expectancy at birth

The state with the longest life expectancy at birth is Hawaii at 80.7 years. Whereas people in the state with the lowest life expectancy, Mississippi, only live till 71.9 on average – an 8 year difference.

The other four states with the lowest life expectancy are also in the South: West Virginia (72.8), Alabama (73.5), Louisiana (73.1), and Kentucky (73.5).

Besides Hawaii, the other top 9 states for longevity are more regionally diverse: Minnesota (79.1), Vermont (78.8), Washington (79.2), New Hampshire (79), Utah (78.6), Colorado (78.3), Massachusetts (79), California (79), and Oregon (78.8).

States with the longest life expectancy at age 65

Hawaii also ranks highest for life expectancy after age 65 with older residents living till 86, on average. The other top 10 states are: California (84.5), Vermont (84.5), Washington (84.5), Oregon (84.3), Florida (84.2), New Hampshire (84.1), Minnesota (84.1), Colorado (84), and Maine (84).

Mississippi is again at the bottom. Though life expectancy in that state from age 65 is 81.1, around 9 years longer than the average life expectancy from birth.

Why the big difference between states?

Academic researchers at various universities study the life expectancy differences.

The World Population Review found correlations on a variety of factors that may suggest why life expectancies vary from state to state. They found that:

  • There is an exact match between the states with the lowest life expectancy and those with the highest levels of poverty. People at the lowest income rungs have a harder time accessing healthcare and experience stresses that negatively impact life expectancies.
  • Of the states with the longest life expectancies, six had the lowest percentage of people with incomes below the poverty level.
  • There is some correlation between life expectancy and:
    • Education levels. States with higher levels of education tend to have populations that live longer.
    • Smoking and obesity levels.
    • Access to and affordability of healthcare.

Researchers have also found that life expectancy differences among states have widened in recent years, as state policies have become more polarized. In general, states where policies have become more liberal have added years to their residents’ lives more quickly, while states where policies have veered conservative have seen slower gains in life expectancy.

What’s Your Life Expectancy?

While where you live and how much money you have can impact how long you live, they are not your destiny. And, while your genetic make up may be a strong determinant of your longevity, your physical, cognitive, emotional, environmental, social, and spiritual health can help increase how long you will live.

A positive mindset helps as well. People with negative attitudes about aging shorten their life expectancy by 7.5 years according to research from Yale.

You know what can help with a positive mindset? A written financial plan that you feel great about. Use the NewRetirement Planner to find your path to a long, healthy, and financially secure life.

NewRetirement Planner

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