The average life expectancy of Americans dropped last year for the first time since World War II, from 78.8 years to 77.3. The CDC attributes the decline to the COVID-19 pandemic and to 93,000 drug overdose deaths — an all-time one-year high. Homicide, diabetes, and liver disease were also contributing factors. (Here is a look at the states with the most drug overdose deaths in 2020.)
However, a relatively large number of Americans still live to be over 85 — 6.7% of the population last year. A number of factors tend to lengthen life spans, including diet and exercise, advances in medical care, and genetics. There are also considerable regional variations across the country, and the state with the longest life expectancy is Hawaii. (On a more granular level, these are the cities where people live the longest.)
24/7 Tempo reviewed average life expectancy at birth in each state. The average ranges from less than 75 years to over 82. These variations are tied to a number of economic and behavioral factors. For example, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and in nearly every state where life expectancy at birth is lower than the national average, the share of adults who smoke exceeds the 16.6% national average. (It is important to note that the figures are averages for the years 2017 through 2019, the most recent period for which state-level data is available, so they are pre-pandemic.)
Income levels are also linked to life expectancy. Poverty, for example, presents challenges and stressors that can take a cumulative toll on both physical and mental health. Additionally, lower-income Americans are less able to afford adequate health care or a range of healthy options related to diet and lifestyle. Recent studies have shown that life expectancy among the wealthiest 1% of Americans exceeds that of the poorest 1% by well over a decade. In nearly every state with longer than average life expectancy, the poverty rate is below the 12.3% national average.
To determine the state with the longest life expectancy, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on life expectancy (the average number of years a person can expect to live) from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program’s 2021 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report. Data published in the report is from the period 2017 to 2019.
Additional information on the share of adults reporting poor or fair health, the share reporting a body mass index of 30 or higher (the adult obesity rate), and the number of current smokers is also from the 2021 CHR. 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.