An American born in 2022 can expect to live for an average of 77.5 years, according to new federal estimates that show the first increase in life expectancy in the United States after an almost unprecedented three-year decline.
At the same time, the crisis of deaths by suicide continues to grow, according to a separate report, claiming a record number of lives — especially among older Americans.
The twin reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released Wednesday, reflect something of a return to pre-pandemic norms — one trend headed in the right direction, the other in a devastating spiral.
Almost since the beginning of record-keeping, American life expectancy has been on the rise, as medical technology and quality of life improves across the board. An American born in 1900 could expect to live just over 49 years, while an American born in 2019 would have a life expectancy of 79.1 years, an incredible gain over time.
Life expectancy dropped substantially in only one period over that span — between 1915 and 1918 — coinciding with the explosion of the Spanish influenza, which killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, about 1 in every 200 people.
A similar, though less dramatic, decline happened during the coronavirus pandemic that claimed more than a million American lives. The pandemic coupled with the rise in what demographers and public health experts call deaths of despair — driven by drug overdoses, alcohol-related deaths and deaths by suicide — to drive American life expectancy down by nearly two full years between 2019 and 2021.
Last year’s figures rebounded by more than a full year, according to CDC data, a positive trend the agency attributed almost entirely to a drop in deaths caused by Covid-19. The CDC said a decline in Covid-related deaths accounted for 84% of the increase in life expectancy, though the agency said the average life expectancy still does not meet pre-pandemic highs.
Declines in deaths from heart disease, unintentional injuries, cancer and homicides accounted for the rest of the gains.
The life expectancy for males born in 2022 rose to 74.8, up 1.3 years, while the life expectancy for women rose to 80.2 years, up 0.9 years. The gap between male and female life expectancy — 5.4 years — remains slightly higher than pre-pandemic years.
Life expectancies among American Indian and Alaska Natives showed the greatest gains, of 2.3 years, but remain the lowest of any ethnic group broken out within the CDC data. Hispanic Americans also showed substantial 2.2-year gains in life expectancy. No ethnic group registered a decline in the age they can expect to live.
On the other side of the ledger, the number of Americans who die by suicide has increased to unprecedented levels. More than 49,000 Americans died by suicide in 2022, the highest number ever recorded, and up 3% over the figure from 2021.
The CDC warned those numbers could rise as death certificates with pending causes of death are finalized.
The surge in those deaths came largely among older Americans. Deaths by suicide rose most among those ages 55-64 and those over the age of 65, while deaths by suicide registered substantial declines among those ages 10-14, 15-24 and 25-34.
Deaths by suicide rose slightly among Hispanics, Asian Americans, Blacks and whites, though the rate declined substantially among American Indian and Alaska Natives — the segment of the population that, in spite of the progress, remains most at risk of death by suicide.
“Suicide has risen almost steadily during the 21st century, with increases experienced for both males and females in nearly every age and race and Hispanic-origin group,” the CDC wrote in its findings.
The CDC found 14.3 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people in the U.S., the highest rate recorded since 1941.
States have reported dramatic increases in the use of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the year since the agency transitioned to the three-digit crisis phone number 988, designed as an alternative to 911 for those experiencing mental health crises.
But only eight states have enacted legislation to sustain 988 call centers through fees, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Other states have allocated short-term funding, though many rural states — where the risk of death by suicide is highest — have yet to implement long-term funding solutions.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or contemplating self-harm, help is available. Dial or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org for free and confidential support.