A study conducted by researchers at UC San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has highlighted a growing disparity in life expectancy between women and men in the United States, a trend that has been ongoing for more than ten years.
Some of the key factors contributing to this widening gap include the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic.
Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the study revealed that the life expectancy gap between men and women in the United States grew to 5.8 years in 2021, marking the largest difference since 1996. This represents an increase from the 4.8-year gap recorded in 2010, which was the narrowest margin in recent history.
From 2019 to 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affected men, was the primary factor in the increasing life expectancy gap. Then, the following factors included unintentional injuries and poisonings– primarily drug overdoses– accidents, and suicide.
In 2021, the average life expectancy in the U.S. declined to 76.1 years– representing a decrease from 78.8 years in 2019, as well as 77 years in 2020.
This reduction in American lifespans is partly linked to what’s known as “deaths of despair.” This phrase describes the rise in mortality due to factors like drug use disorders, suicide, and alcoholic liver disease. These factors are frequently associated with stress, economic difficulties, and depression.
“There’s been a lot of research into the decline in life expectancy in recent years, but no one has systematically analyzed why the gap between men and women has been widening since 2010,” explained Brandon Yan, the study’s first author.
“While rates of death from drug overdose and homicide have climbed for both men and women, it is clear that men constitute an increasingly disproportionate share of these deaths.”
Yan and his research team utilized data from the National Center for Health Statistics to pinpoint the leading causes of death that significantly reduced life expectancy. They then assessed the impact on both men and women to determine the extent to which various causes contributed to the widening life expectancy gap.