The coronavirus pandemic will shorten the life expectancy at birth for Americans by about a year due to the more than 336,000 deaths from the illness in the US in 2020, according to new research.
Researchers at the University of Southern California and Princeton project that life expectancy will be cut by 1.13 years 77.48 years, according to their study, which was published Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That is the lowest life expectancy estimated since 2003 – and marks the largest single-year decline in at least 40 years, according to Science Daily.
The longevity declines are likely even steeper among minority populations, the study found.
For blacks, the researchers project the life expectancy would shorten by 2.10 years to 72.78 years, and for Latinos, by 3.05 years to 78.77 years, according to the research.
Among whites, the projected decline is 0.68 years to a life expectancy of 77.84 years – while overall, the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites is projected to widen by 40 percent, from 3.6 to more than five years.
“Our study analyzes the effect of this exceptional number of deaths on life expectancy for the entire nation, as well as the consequences for marginalized groups,” said study author Theresa Andrasfay, a postdoctoral fellow at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
“The COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate effect on the life expectancy of Black and Latino Americans likely has to do with their greater exposure through their workplace or extended family contacts, in addition to receiving poorer health care, leading to more infections and worse outcomes,” she added.
The coronavirus has apparently eliminated many of the gains made in narrowing the black-white life expectancy gap since 2006, Science Daily reported.
Medical personnel in Brooklyn move a deceased patient to a refrigerated truck being used as a makeshift morgue.AFP via Getty Images
Latinos, who have experienced lower mortality than whites, would see their more than three-year survival advantage over whites reduced to less than one year.
“The huge decline in life expectancy for Latinos is especially shocking given that Latinos have lower rates than the white and black populations of most chronic conditions that are risk factors for COVID-19,” said study co-author Noreen Goldman, a professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton.
“The generally good health of Latinos prior to the pandemic, which should have protected them from COVID-19, has laid bare the risks associated with social and economic disadvantage,” she said.
The study estimated life expectancy at birth and at age 65 for 2020 for the total US population and by race and ethnicity.
The researchers used four scenarios of deaths — one in which the pandemic had not occurred and three others that include COVID-19 mortality projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington.
“The bigger reductions in life expectancy for the Black and Latino populations result in part from a disproportionate number of deaths at younger ages for these groups,” Goldman said.
“These findings underscore the need for protective behaviors and programs to reduce potential viral exposure among younger individuals who may not perceive themselves to be at high risk,” she added.
The projected pandemic-related drop in life expectancy is about 10 times as large as the declines seen in recent years.
During the 1918 influenza pandemic, life expectancy was reduced by an extraordinary seven to 12 years.