Life expectancy dropped in Michigan, US for 1st time in decades -- here’s why

Decline between 2019-2021 biggest since 1920s

Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash (Unsplash)

We never know how long exactly we’ll be around for, but data does provide an estimate.

The life expectancy of humans has significantly increased over time. Worldwide, people born today can expect to live decades longer than those before them. According to data from the United Nations, global human life expectancy increased to an average of 72 years of age today, compared to 52.5 years in 1960.

It’s likely that modern medicine and health initiatives are behind the constant increase in life expectancy -- however, that trend of growth has started to slow down, at least in the U.S. and in Michigan.

We’re breaking down life expectancy data for males and females in Michigan and across the country.

Average US life expectancy

The average life expectancy of both males and females had been increasing fairly steadily in Michigan and across the U.S. -- until the year 2020, that is. Life expectancy dropped more significantly in 2020, and again in 2021, than it had in decades prior.

According to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, in the U.S. in 2021, the average life expectancy of both males and females combined was 73.7 years. In 2019, that average was 78.85 years.

That 5.15-year difference may not seem like a significant drop, but it is. As you can see in the graph below, life expectancies appear to rise quite slowly, largely inching up by about 0.1-0.4 years each year.

Prior to 2020, life expectancy in the U.S. somewhat plateaued at around 78.7 years for a few years.

Average Michigan life expectancy

The data is similar in Michigan, though the life expectancy drop between 2019 and 2021 was a bit less steep in the state.

The average life expectancy of both males and females in Michigan was 75.8 years of age in 2021. The average was 78.15 in 2019 -- a 2.35 year difference.

The drop between 2020 and 2019 was a 1.75-year difference in Michigan.

Prior to 2020, life expectancy in Michigan rose by about 0.1 years each year since 1990 -- excluding a slight decrease recorded in 1994. The average life expectancy plateaued at around 77.8 years before 2020, and reached its peak in 2019.

Male vs. female expectancy

Women have a longer life expectancy than men do. That’s not just in Michigan, and not just in the U.S., but in almost every society around the world.

The difference between male and female life expectancies varies per region, as all life expectancy data does.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, females tend to outlive males because males are more likely to smoke, and more likely to be risk-takers, “making them more susceptible to life-threatening injuries.” Experts also believe that females have stronger immune systems, and that the hormone estrogen could be preventing heart disease.

So, life expectancy is higher for females than it is for males.

For instance, the U.S. female life expectancy was 80.1 years in 2005. For U.S. males that year, the expectancy was 75 years.

In Michigan, the female life expectancy in 2000 was 78.8, while for males it was 73.7 years.

Below is data for U.S. males and females from 1990-2021.

Life expectancy has increased at nearly the same rate for both males and females over the years, with females always being associated with the higher number. The rate of difference between the male and female numbers appears to be nearly the same in Michigan and in the U.S., at least for the last few decades.

When looking at data from 1990-2021, the greatest difference between U.S. data and Michigan data occurred during the 2020 life expectancy drop. In the U.S., that drop was largely among females: The female life expectancy dropped from 81.4 in 2019 to 79.9 in 2020, and further to 74.2 in 2021. For males, the number dropped from 76.3 in 2019 to 74.2 in 2020, then to 73.2 in 2021.

Life expectancy has generally been slightly higher in the U.S. as a whole than in Michigan.

Below is data for Michigan males and females from 1990-2021.

Why did life expectancy drop?

After years of rising, life expectancy is the U.S. recently saw its biggest two-year decline since 1921-1923, the CDC said.

The health agency says that the declines since 2019 are “largely driven” by the COVID-19 pandemic. Majority of the decline from 2019-2020 (74%) and from 2020-2021 (50%) is being attributed to the unexpected global pandemic, according to a 2022 CDC report.

For the decline between 2020-2021, the CDC says 16% of it can be attributed to “increases in deaths from accidents/unintentional injuries,” which includes drug overdose deaths. Also between that time frame, heart disease contributed to the about 4.1% of the decline, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis contributed to 3% of the decline, and suicide contributed to 2.1% of the decline.

You can find the CDC’s full report here. Note: The life expectancy age data may vary slightly from the MDHHS data we are using in this newsletter.

Life expectancy between 1950-2020

The Michigan health department didn’t offer life expectancy data for every single year, but they did provide data at the start of new decades -- so we were able to compare data from 1950 to the present.

Even in 1950, females had a higher life expectancy than males, in both Michigan and in the entire nation. Still, those numbers were lower than they are today.

In 1950 in the U.S., life expectancy was 71.1 years for females and 65.5 years for males. Those numbers grew to 81 years for females and 76.2 years for males by 2010, before dropping some by 2020.

Check out the U.S. data in the graph below from 1950-2020.

The numbers were pretty similar in Michigan over those 70 years.

Below is a look at the Michigan data from 1950-2020.

Previously on Data Drop:

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.