The National Center for Health Statistics last month released its provisional life expectancy estimates for the first half of 2020. A division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NCHS collects official vital statistics data, including birth and death records, to produce national life tables.

Based in part on provisional death counts from January to June 2020, the NCHS’s abridged period life tables show a one-year decrease in life expectancy at birth for Americans, from 78.8 years to 77.8 years for the total U.S. population.

The high number of deaths from COVID-19 was the primary reason for the decrease in life expectancy.

Demographics and Data Limitations

According to the report, “In order to assess the effects on life expectancy of excess mortality observed during 2020, NCHS is publishing, for the first time, life tables based on provisional vital statistics data.”

The current data does not include final death counts for 2020, and so does not present the full impact of the pandemic in 2020.

Life expectancy projections show demographic disparities. Non-Hispanic Black males and Hispanic males experienced the most significant life expectancy changes, with decreases of 3 years and 2.4 years, respectively. Provisional mortality statistics show that COVID-19 death rates were disproportionately higher for these groups.

Life expectancy estimates remain higher for women than for men, and the difference between the sexes has widened from 5.1 years to 5.4 years.

The reported findings follow a trend of life expectancy declines seen over the past several years. In addition to COVID-19 deaths, other key factors have contributed to the falling life expectancy:

  • Higher suicide rates
  • Increased drug overdoses
  • Rise in liver disease

The last time the United States saw three or more years of decreasing life expectancy rates was between 1915-1918, throughout the Spanish Flu pandemic and World War I.

Life Expectancy & Retirement Planning

For people building their financial portfolios — and especially for those approaching retirement — it is important to understand how life expectancy data influences financial planning.

Life expectancy is an important consideration in retirement planning. One of the most common risks in retirement is longevity risk — the risk of outliving your savings.

Glen Cone, author of “Generation Preservation, My Story in Trusted Hands ” and an accredited financial counselor with Lincoln Investment told Annuity.org, “Unanswerable questions of some kind will always be a factor when planning for retirement. With the global scale of COVID, additional variables are at play. It’s difficult to know just where clarity will come from and how long it’ll take.”

Insurance companies include life expectancy projections in product development and contract terms. Annuities and life insurance products secure future income, and the pandemic-driven decrease in life expectancy could affect premiums.

As opposed to the period life table estimates, which represents death rates of an entire population over a short period of time, presented in this report, cohort life expectancy tables represent the mortality of the entire lifetime of a group of people of roughly the same age.

Retirement-aged cohorts may continue to see life expectancy decreases, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused higher death rates among older age groups.

Even with the seemingly drastic shift in numbers, Cone does not anticipate that the impact of the pandemic on retirement portfolio will be long-lasting.

“I believe that tried and true prudent methods still work well,” said Cone. “The old saying, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ is still true today when it comes to guidelines to meet a goal or manage a retirement portfolio.”

Please seek the advice of a qualified professional before making financial decisions.
Last Modified: March 19, 2021

4 Cited Research Articles

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  1. Arias, E., Tejada-Vera, B., Ahmad, F. (2021, February). Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates for January through June, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/VSRR10-508.pdf
  2. Bell, F.C. & Miller, M.L. (n.d.). Life Tables for the United States Social Security Area 1900-2100. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/oact/NOTES/as120/LifeTables_Body.html
  3. Cone, G. (2021, March 9). Phone interview with Annuity.org
  4. Saiidi, U. (2019, July 9). US life expectancy has been declining. Here’s why. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/09/us-life-expectancy-has-been-declining-heres-why.html