Average life expectancy in the U.S. fell slightly in 2015 and 2016, according to the latest CDC data, after plateauing for several years, in contrast to most other developed countries, where it has continued to gradually rise. This negative trend is not new, as a recent editorial in the journal BMJ explained. In 1960, life expectancy in the U.S. was 2.4 years longer than the average for 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But the U.S. started losing ground in the 1980s, and its life expectancy fell below the OECD average in 1998, flattened in 2012, and is now 1.5 years lower than the OECD average. Key contributors to U.S. longevity setbacks since 2000 are rising death rates from drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, and suicides, especially in rural areas with economic hardship, the authors noted.
The conclusion is worth citing: “Over the three decades in which survival advances slowed in the U.S., educational performance weakened, social divides (including income inequality) widened, middle-class incomes stagnated, and poverty rates exceeded those of most rich countries. The U.S. is rich, but its wealth is not inclusive. Its social contract is weaker than in other countries—those in need have less access to social services, healthcare, or the prevention and treatment of mental illness and addiction. The 'American dream' is increasingly out of reach, as social mobility declines and fewer children face a better future than their parents.”
A version of this article first appeared in theUC Berkeley Wellness Letter.