New Study: Life Expectancy for Men Declines in the U.S Due to Largely Preventable Deaths

Updated: Dec. 06, 2023

Researchers say the gap between men and women's life expectancy in the U.S. is the widest it has been since 1997—and the reasons why are worrying.

Bad news surfaced this week as research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that in 2021, life expectancy in the U.S. decreased overall for both men and women for the second consecutive year, reaching just over 76 years. The situation is graver for men, as the average woman can expect to live to 79, while many men can only anticipate reaching 73. The gap between men and women in terms of life expectancy is the widest it has been since 1997, according to researchers from the University of California and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, and the reasons why rates are dropping are also very concerning.

The fact that women generally outlive men isn’t groundbreaking news; they’ve been doing so for over a century, partly due to better dietary choices and smoking cessation. “Across the world, women tend to live longer than men,” the study’s lead author, Brandon Yan, MD MPH, said to STAT. However, both genders tend to live longer in other countries like Japan and the UK, where many reach their 80th birthday or beyond. So what is different in the U.S.? While COVID-19 is partially responsible for the decrease in life expectancy in recent years, particularly for men who were more susceptible to the virus, it does not entirely explain the age-gender gap.

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The authors of the study point out that men in the U.S. are also more prone to die from drug overdoses and suicide. “The opioid epidemic, mental health, and chronic metabolic disease are certainly front and center in the data that we see here,” mentioned Yan. He emphasizes that the concerning rise is connected to issues and conditions that are largely preventable. A significant aspect of the widening gender gap is attributed to the healthcare system’s failure to prioritize prevention over treating illnesses. “We have a healthcare system that is very advanced in treating illnesses and advanced disease. But for the most part…it is not very good when it comes to preventative care,” Yan noted.

While the data doesn’t explicitly address it, the issues become even more pronounced when broken down by race. “We know that the disparity at baseline between men and women is much higher for Black Americans than it is for white Americans, for instance. And the interplay between gender and race is an important area for further study,” Yan added. Life expectancy for Black Americans overall is just over 70 years, but STAT mentions that the life expectancy for black men in the U.S. is just over 61 years, a startling eight years shorter than for Black women.