Research shows that life expectancies are declining in the United States, with richer Americans’ life expectancies plateauing.
Magali Barbieri, a researcher in UC Berkeley’s department of demography who conducted the research, said the most surprising finding was that even the most affluent Americans are experiencing little, if any, increases in life expectancy. Barbieri added that the research confirmed previously observed trends, such as the growing life expectancy gap between more affluent and less affluent Americans and the positive correlation between wealth and life expectancy.
“Even the most affluent people have seen a plateauing of life expectancies, and 90% of Americans are doing worse than other high-income democracies,” Barbieri said. “If you take the best life expectancies of Americans, it is still 3 ½ years behind that of a Japanese woman.”
Barbieri, who is also associate director of the Human Mortality Database, said the lowering life expectancies of Americans can be attributed to two main factors: an increasing number of opioid overdoses and the increasing incidence of cardiovascular disease in Americans. Deaths from opioids have disproportionately affected male Americans, Barbieri added.
The gap between the life expectancies of Americans and other high-income democracies, such as Sweden or Japan, has also grown, according to Barbieri. While life expectancies have decreased in the United States, they have increased in other high-income countries.
“I thought the U.S. would follow the trend of other high-income countries,” Barbieri said. “But we see that the better part of the U.S. population has not benefited and that some trends have reversed.”
Barbieri noted that 90% of Americans have lower life expectancies than those living in other high-income countries. Barbieri added that the trend of decreasing life spans began in 2010.
According to Barbieri, it is unknown whether opioid overdoses and increasing cardiovascular disease prevalence is the reason for the stagnation of life expectancy for the most affluent Americans, and figuring this out would be the next focus for her research.
Additionally, Barbieri said she hopes that this research will spark action on alleviating the underlying societal factors that lead to decreasing life spans.
“With this research, I think that people will take it more seriously,” Barbieri said. “As long as the problem is with the poorest, the political system is not going to make a change, but if you show that it affects every American, hopefully it will move in the right direction.”