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Life expectancy for men now 6 years shorter than for women

The overall life expectancy of Americans fell by 2.7 years from 2019 to 2021, and COVID-19 is not fully to blame, researchers say.
Life expectancy for men now 6 years shorter than for women
Posted at 11:02 AM, Nov 14, 2023

There is a widening gap in life expectancy between men and women. Women in the U.S. are now expected to outlive men by nearly six years, according to a study by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and UC San Francisco. 

The researchers published their findings in JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday. They said it is the largest gap between men's and women's life expectancy since 1996.

The researchers said on Monday that the U.S. life expectancy dropped in 2021 to 76.1 years, falling from 78.8 years in 2019 and 77 years in 2020.

In addition to COVID-19, increases in unintentional injuries and poisonings (mostly drug overdoses), accidents, and suicide have caused life expectancy to fall. Researchers said that men are increasingly more prone to these sorts of deaths. 

"There’s been a lot of research into the decline in life expectancy in recent years, but no one has systematically analyzed why the gap between men and women has been widening since 2010," study author Brandon Yan, a UCSF internal medicine resident physician and research collaborator at Harvard Chan School, said in a press release. "While rates of death from drug overdose and homicide have climbed for both men and women, it is clear that men constitute an increasingly disproportionate share of these deaths."

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The data released by Harvard closely matches previous information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said the life expectancy for males in 2021 was 73.2 years and 79.1 years for females. 

The CDC's data also showed even larger disparities between men and women of color. Black males' life expectancy was eight years less than Black females in 2021. Hispanic and American Indian or Alaska Native males had life expectancies that were seven years shorter than females. 

Senior author Howard Koh, professor of the practice of public health leadership at Harvard's Chan School of Public Health, noted the disparities among different demographics. 

“We need to track these trends closely as the pandemic recedes,” Koh said. “And we must make significant investments in prevention and care to ensure that this widening disparity, among many others, do not become entrenched.”

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