Publication Date:

Oct 03, 2018

Key facts about life expectancy

  • For babies born in 2015, life expectancy at birth was 79 years, compared to 71 years for infants born in 1970.
  • Females have a greater life expectancy at birth than males, although the gender gap in life expectancy has narrowed from about 8 years in 1970 to about 5 years in 2015.
  • As of 2014, non-Hispanic black children are still almost twice as likely (1.8 percent) as non-Hispanic white children or Hispanic children (each at 0.9 percent) to die before reaching age 20.
  • From 2001 to 2014, life expectancy inequality between the richest and poorest Americans increased; in 2014, the gap between the life expectancy of the richest 1 percent and the poorest 1 percent was nearly 15 years for men and over 10 years for women.1

Trends in life expectancy

Life expectancy for newborns has increased substantially over the past 80 years, from 57 years for infants born in 1929 to 79 years for infants born in 2015 (Appendix 1). Around 1 percent of children born in 2014 (the latest year for which such estimates are available) will die before they reach the age of 20, compared with 11 percent of children born in the early 1930s (Appendix 2).

Differences by gender

Females have a greater life expectancy at birth than males, although the gender gap has narrowed since its peak in 1979, when men were expected to live an average of 70 years and women an average of 78 years.2 In 2015, the gender gap was 5 years, with men and women expected to live, on average, 76 and 81 years, respectively (Appendix 1). Females are also less likely than males to die before reaching age 20 (0.9 versus 1.2 percent, respectively, in 2014, the latest year for which such estimates are available). This gap (between the percentage of males and females who died before age 20) widened from the early 1930s to the early 1990s, from an 18- to a 40-percent gap. Since then, the gap has narrowed; in 2014, males were 29 percent more likely to die young than females (Appendix 2).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin3

Recent increases in life expectancy have been especially pronounced among black male newborns, for whom the average life expectancy increased from 65 years in 1990 to 73 years in 2014, following a slight decline in the late 1980s (Appendix 1). Despite these gains, however, non-Hispanic black children are still almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic white children to die before reaching age 20. Of children born in 2014, the latest year for which such estimates are available, 1.8 percent of non-Hispanic black children were expected to die before reaching age 20, compared with 0.9 percent of non-Hispanic white children born the same year. Hispanic children are similar to non-Hispanic white children on this measure. (Appendix 2)

In addition to being more likely to survive to age 20, non-Hispanic white newborns also have longer total life expectancies than non-Hispanic black newborns. In 2015, non-Hispanic white newborns could be expected to live an average of 79 years, compared with 75 years for non-Hispanic black newborns. Hispanic infants had the longest life expectancy, at 82 years. The black-white gap in 2014 was the smallest ever recorded (Appendix 1).

Differences by socioeconomic status

In contrast to the narrowing gaps in life expectancy between males and females, and between whites and blacks, the United States has seen widening disparities by income and educational attainment. In 2000, the gap between the highest and lowest socioeconomic groups for life expectancy at birth was 4.5 years, up from 2.8 years in 1980.4 Similarly, at age 25, the gap between individuals with any college education and those with a high school education or less grew by 30 percent from 1990 to 2000.5 From 2001 to 2014, life expectancy inequality between the richest and poorest Americans increased. During this time, the gap between the life expectancy of the richest 1 percent and the poorest 1 percent was nearly 15 years for men and over 10 years for women.6

Other estimates

State and local estimates

2013–14 data for states, congressional districts, and the 10 most populous metropolitan areas are available from the American Human Development Project, Mapping the Measure of America website at http://www.measureofamerica.org/maps/.

International estimates

The Population Reference Bureau publishes life expectancy rates for most countries in its DataFinder tool. The 2017 data are available at https://www.prb.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/WPDS-2017.pdf.

Estimates of the healthy life expectancy (the number of years of life spent in good health) for each member state of the World Health Organization are available for the year 2016 from World Health Statistics 2016 at http://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2018/EN_WHS2018_AnnexB.pdf.

Data and appendices

Data sources

Raw data source

Mortality Data, National Vital Statistics System.
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/deaths.htm

Appendices

Appendix 1. Estimated Life Expectancy (in Years) of Newborns, by Race/Hispanic Origin and Gender: 1929–2015

Appendix 2. Percent of Infants Expected to Die Before Reaching Age 20, by Race/Hispanic Origin and Gender: Selected Years, 1929–2014

Background

Definition

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, “Life expectancy is the average number of years of life remaining to a person at a particular age and is based on a given set of age-specific death rates, generally the mortality conditions existing in the period mentioned. Life expectancy may be determined by race, sex, or other characteristics using age-specific death rates for the population with that characteristic.”

For more information, see http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus11.pdf.

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Life Expectancy. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/life-expectancy.

Endnotes

1. Chetty, R., Stepner, M., Abraham, S., Lin, S., Scuderi, B., et al. (2016). The association between income and life expectancy in the United States, 2001–2014. JAMA, 315(16), 1750–1766.
2. Arias, E. (2007). United States life tables, 2004 [Table 12]. National Vital Statistics Reports, 56(9). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr51/nvsr51_03.pdf.
3. Hispanic persons may be of any race.
4. Singh, G. K. & Siahpush, M. (2006). Widening socioeconomic inequalities in U.S. life expectancy, 1980–2000. International Journal of Epidemiology, 35(4), 969–979.
5. Meara, E. R., Richards, S., & Cutler, D. M. (2008). The gap gets bigger: Changes in mortality and life-expectancy by education, 1981–2000. Health Affairs, 27(2), 350–360.
6. Chetty, R., Stepner, M., Abraham, S., Lin, S., Scuderi, B., et al. (2016). Op. cit.