Special Report

The 40 US Cities With the Shortest Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is one of the main measures of a population’s overall health. With the exception of the last three years — when the U.S. life expectancy dropped largely because of spikes in suicide and opioid deaths (coronavirus-related deaths have yet to make it into annual statistics) — life expectancy in the United States has generally been increasing.

According to the latest available data, a baby born between 2016 and 2018 in the United States can be expected to live 79 years on average, more than seven years longer than the life expectancy at birth in 1980. The increase in life expectancy at birth and the likelihood of living a long life vary considerably across the United States.

To determine the cities where people have the shortest life expectancy, 24/7 Tempo reviewed 2020 county-level life expectancy at birth figures from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. To obtain metro area life expectancy estimates, we mapped each metro area to its corresponding county.

The association between wealth and life expectancy is well established. Due to worse access to medical care, healthy foods, as well as greater stress related to financial struggles, lower income and poorer individuals tend to have worse health outcomes than wealthier individuals.

The cities on this list tend to have a bigger share of residents living below the national poverty line than metro areas with longer life expectancy. In the national context, all but three cities on this list have higher poverty rates than the national rate of 12.3%.

Another common trend among the cities with the shortest life expectancy is the tendency to report less healthy behaviors than cities with longer life expectancy. In cities with shorter life expectancy, a higher share of adults tend to report lack of physical activity and smoking, and obesity rates are higher too. 

Obesity is associated with higher risk of serious diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Obesity rates in all but one city on this list are higher than the national average of 29.0%. Similarly, smoking rates in these metro areas are almost always higher than the national average. Only two cities report a lower smoking rate than the national adult smoking rate of 17.0%. This is exactly what happens to your body once you start smoking.

Click here to see the 40 US cities with the shortest life expectancy

To determine the cities where people have the shortest life expectancy, 24/7 Tempo reviewed 2020 county-level life expectancy at birth figures from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHR), a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. To obtain metro area life expectancy estimates, we mapped each metro area to its corresponding county.

Metro area-level population and health insurance data and poverty rates came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey. Obesity and smoking rates as well as the share of the population who reports no physical activity on a regular basis came from the CHR.