The last time average life expectancy declined as much as it did last year was between 1942 and 1943. In 2020, the life expectancy of Americans fell 1.5 years to 77.3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the drop was mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a report about the overall drop, researchers wrote, “COVID-19 deaths contributed to nearly three-fourths or 74% of the decline.” Based on COVID-19 deaths and fatal drug overdoses, no one would be surprised if the figure fell again in 2021.
Life expectancy dropped for other reasons, but in terms of numbers, they were modest. The list includes homicide, diabetes and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. The overall longevity of the oldest Americans remains part of the population landscape. Almost 7.5% of people in the United States were older than 85.
Using data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHR), a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program, 24/7 Tempo identified the U.S. metro area with the shortest average life expectancy at birth. Life expectancy figures are averages for the years 2017 through 2019, the most recent period for which metro-level data is available.
Among the metropolitan areas we considered, the average life expectancy at birth ranged from nearly 76 years to less than 73, while the national average is 79.2 years.
Variations in life expectancy are tied to a number of both economic and behavioral factors. For example, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In every metro area on the list, the share of adults who smoke was above the 16.6% national average.
The American city with the lowest life expectancy is Beckley, West Virginia. Here are the details:
- Life expectancy at birth (years): 72.7
- Adults reporting poor or fair health: 25.6% (15th highest)
- Adult obesity rate: 38.9% (23rd highest)
- Smoking rate: 27.9% (the highest)
- Population without health insurance: 7.2% (157th lowest)
- Median household income: $44,785 (12th lowest)
- Poverty rate: 17.9% (51st highest)
To determine the metro area with the shortest life expectancy, 24/7 Tempo used the 384 metropolitan statistical areas as delineated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and used by the Census Bureau as our definition of metros.
Metros were ranked based on life expectancy. Additional information on the share of adults reporting poor or fair health, the share of adults 20 years and older who report a body mass index of 30 kg/m2 or higher (adult obesity rate), and the share of adults who are current smokers are also from the 2021 CHR. While the CHR report is from 2021, life expectancy data published in the report are from 2017-2019.
The share of the civilian noninstitutionalized population without health insurance, median household income and poverty rates are one-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.