Life expectancy in the United States steadily decreasing

Life expectancy in the United States is decreasing, and it may be due to the increasing rates of drug abuse and suicide, a new study finds.

In a new study published in the journal JAMA Network, establishes that after decades of living longer lives, Americans are dying earlier due to increasing cases of suicides, drug overdoses, and diseases such as liver cancer, obesity, and cirrhosis, among middle-aged or working-age adults.

The part of the population most affected is those in the economically-struggling parts of the country, like the “Rust Belt” and Appalachia.

In the past six decades, the US life expectancy increased for most of this time frame, but the rate slowed over time. After 2014, life expectancy turned downward. Due to the deaths happening in middle-aged individuals, which kick-started in the early 1990s, the rate of life expectancy decreased dramatically.

Image Credit: Nito / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Nito / Shutterstock

Increase in midlife mortality

Specifically, the researchers found that US life expectancy decreased due to the increasing cause-specific deaths among adults between 25 and 64 years old. During the 2010 to 2017 period, midlife all-cause death rates soared from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 to 348.2 deaths per 100,000.

By 2014, increased mortality rates occurred across all racial groups. The largest relative increase in midlife mortality or death happened in New England and the Ohio Valley.

“A major contributor has been an increase in mortality from specific causes (e.g., drug overdoses, suicides, organ system diseases) among young and middle-aged adults of all racial groups, with onset as early as the 1990s and with the largest relative increases occurring in the Ohio Valley and New England. The implications for public health and the economy are substantial, making it vital to understand the underlying causes,” the researchers concluded in the study.

Negative trend

To land to the findings, the researchers analyzed data from the US Mortality Database, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s WONDER database. Though there were past studies that explored the negative trend of decreasing life expectancy in the country, the current study found problems like suicides and drug overdoses are shortening life expectancy among Americans.

Mortality caused by obesity during the midlife period increased by a staggering 114 percent, while deaths because of hypertension for the same age group increased by 78.9 percent. Moreover, deaths tied to alcohol-related problems, such as cirrhosis and chronic liver disease, increased by 40.6 percent.

Suicide rates soared by as much as 38.3 percent for individuals between 25 and 64 years old, and by 55.9 percent for older people aged 55 to 64 years old. Further, for those between 25 and 34, the rate of alcohol-related disease mortality boosted by as much as 157.6 percent in 18 years.

Compared with the average mortality rates of 16 other high-income countries, the US has a lower mortality from cancer and cerebrovascular diseases like stroke, but has higher mortality rates from most other causes of death, such as external causes like suicide, homicide, and drug overdoses, circulatory disorders like hypertension and ischemic heart disease, infectious diseases, diabetes, congenital malformations, and other health conditions.

If the negative trend pursues and if the slow rate of US life expectancy increase persists, it might take the country more than 100 years to reach the average life expectancy other first world countries attained by 2016.

The results of the study shed light on the need for more attention to health, particularly for middle adults. The researchers suggest that companies should implement health programs to safeguard the health of the employees. Since many of the factors are lifestyle practices, having a good and healthy lifestyle can help mitigate the negative effects on US life expectancy.

Journal reference:

Woolf SH, Schoomaker H. Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the United States, 1959-2017. JAMA. 2019;322(20):1996–2016. doi:

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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