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Good news! We’re living longer! (But, um, not as long as people in 30 other countries)

At least life expectancy in the United States is heading in the right direction. In fact, it’s at an all-time high.

According to a report issued Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average life expectancy for Americans reached 77.9 years in 2007.

That’s up from 77.7 years in 2006 — and an impressive 1.4 years more than the 76.5 years of a decade earlier (1997).

Way to go, everybody.

Both men and women are enjoying longer lives, although the life-expectancy gap between them has narrowed considerably. In the “peak gap” year — 1979 — women outlived men by 7.8 years. That gap has now shrunk to 5.1 years, with men now living to 75.3 years and women to 80.4 years.

Under the category of good-but-definitely-not-good-enough news, the CDC report also found that life expectancy for African-American men reached 70 years for the first time.

Heart disease and cancer accounted for almost half (48.5 percent) of deaths in 2007. But the death rates for eight of the 15 leading causes of death — including heart disease and cancer — declined significantly: influenza and pneumonia (8.4 percent), homicide (6.5 percent), accidents (5 percent), heart disease (4.7 percent), stroke (4.6 percent), diabetes (3.9 percent), hypertension (2.7 percent) and cancer (1.8 percent).

Of course, that means the death rates didn’t decline for seven other leading causes, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease actually shot ahead of diabetes on the list.

And, although HIV/AIDS isn’t in the top 15 causes of death in the United States (it is, though, the sixth leading cause of death among 25- to 44-year-olds), its death rate declined 10 percent from 2006, the biggest drop since 1998.

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news:

Despite living to an average age of almost 80 years, we continue to lag 30 other countries in life expectancy, according to the United Nations.

We’re behind the usual suspects — countries like Britain, Germany, Greece, Norway, Belgium, Australia, France, Japan and Israel.

But we’re also behind some countries that might surprise you: Singapore, Cyprus, Malta, Chile and Costa Rica.

Apparently, however, we’ve finally inched ahead of Cuba! And we’ve tied Denmark and South Korea!

Pretty good for the country with, as so many pundits like to tell us lately, “the best healthcare in the world.”

For more info:

The CDC’s life-expectancy projection was based on about 90 percent of death certificates filed in the United States in 2007. You can read the full report here.

Want to get a rough estimate of your own life expectancy? Grab a calculator and go to the Minnesota State Retirement System’s website.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Joshua Abell on 08/20/2009 - 10:45 am.

    Americans live more dangerously than citizens of other nations. If you take out homicides & accidents, Americans actually live longer than any other country.

    Our health care system has some issues, but they’re not so bad we need to blow a trillion dollars on it.

  2. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/20/2009 - 08:12 pm.

    That may or may not be true but you have to consider that homicides and accidents take young lives. A mesurement of total life years lost play a part in some health care decision making. A goal is to have all or most of us live healthy long productive lives so the inevitable declines of aging is what does us in but not prematurely.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 08/20/2009 - 08:41 pm.

    Joshua, do you think the trillion dollars for the Iraq War was “blown”? I do! Always plenty of money to fight a shooting war–even if the reasons had to be trumped up; never enough to help those in need. That would be “blowing” it.

  4. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 08/21/2009 - 10:46 am.

    Joshua, we’re not “blowing” a trillion new dollars. We’re already spending that money. Our per capita costs are double anyone else’s so we don’t need to spend new money. We need to spend it much better. That trillion dollars is additional only to the federal government. Overall we’ll save money by developing a sane system.

  5. Submitted by Joshua Abell on 08/21/2009 - 12:20 pm.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

    I absolutely believe the trillion dollars for the Iraq war were “blown.” I also believe that the $700,000,000 bailout was blown. We shouldn’t have given money to incompetent bankers.

    Unless I’m reading Elmendorf’s report wrong, that trillion dollars is new cost. Maybe we’ll spend it anyway in increased fees, but I’d rather spend it than have the government bureaucracy spend it. I agree that we need to do a better job at providing for the less fortunate, but putting gov’t in charge is a baaaaaad idea. I’ll stop here since the article is allegedly about life expectancy.

  6. Submitted by John Roach on 08/21/2009 - 05:10 pm.


    If one is removing non-health related fatalities, it is impossible for the “adjusted/unadjusted ratio” to be less than 1.000 as many of the countries listed show.

    Ohsfeldt and Schneider produced this analysis for the extremely conservative American Enterprise Institute and it is badly flawed. Using their methodology for “adjusting” life expectancy, Canada’s correct ratio is 1.010. They list it as 0.986.

    Using the correct calculation gives Canada an “adjusted” life expectancy of 78.07; significantly higher than the US “adjusted” number of 76.9.

    Even using Sweden, arguably the most “socialist” country in the list which has such a low homicide and accident rate that its “ratio” is only 1.0061, we arrive at an “adjusted” life expectancy of 78.17; again, well above the US. The same can be demonstrated for all of the countries to which they assigned “ratios” less than 1.000.

    High obesity rates and associated “lifestyle” types of disease may indeed play a factor in the US poor comparison with other countries, but homicide and auto accidents do not even come close to explaining the gap. Ohsfeldt and Schneider reference this, but do not provide the data that allows for an independent analysis.

    Based on the gross errors they made on their “checkable” conclusions, I would be disinclined to just take their word for anything.

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