In the US, the average life expectancy for men is now almost six years shorter than that of women. This is the biggest the gap has been since 1996.
Overall life expectancy, regardless of sex, has also fallen in the US. In 2019, men and women lived to an average age of 78.8 years, but this dropped to 76.1 years in 2021. “It was unsettling to see first the decline in overall life expectancy and then to see the disproportionate burden facing men,” says Brandon Yan at Harvard University.
The “death gap” is not new: more than a century of records show that women in the US tend to outlive men. But in recent decades, that gap was closing. Now, a new analysis of US National Centre for Health Statistics death records from 2010 to 2021 finds the trend is reversing. On average, men are dying 5.8 years before women – up from a low of 4.8 years in 2010. The authors note that one limitation of the study is that death records include only binary gender classifications.
Yan and his colleagues analysed the causes of mortality to determine which ones contributed most to the disparity. “The data show that men are disproportionately dying from covid-19, drug overdoses, homicide and suicide,” says Yan.
He and his colleagues found that men have been more likely than women to experience severe or fatal cases of covid-19, which is the leading cause for the differences in life expectancy. So-called “deaths of despair”, including those due to alcohol abuse, suicide and drug overdoses, combine to be the second-largest contributors, he says.
This may be also exacerbated by cultural and social influences, including stress, housing instability and a reluctance to seek mental healthcare, which “suggests there is a gender component to the nation’s worsening mental health crisis”, says Yan.
One way to begin to close this gap, the researchers say, is to focus on reducing preventable deaths. Yan expects premature deaths attributed to covid-19 will wane, but says we need to uncover the underlying conditions that drive people to use drugs and self-harm.
- United States/
- public health