After four years of decline, the U.S. life expectancy rate went up in 2018.
The increase in life expectancy was small — Americans are living just over a month longer — but it indicates that the number of deaths each year may finally be stabilizing after the opioid epidemic took more than 702,000 lives between 1999 and 2017. The data is part of the Centers for Disease Control’s annual National Vital Statistics Report, released Thursday morning.
The past four years of life expectancy decline were the first since 1993, when the AIDS epidemic spread across the U.S.
While the life expectancy news is encouraging, the report showed that maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are still concerningly high for a wealthy, first-world country. In 2018, there were 658 women who died while pregnant, during childbirth or within 42 days after the end of a pregnancy, a number that stayed steady from year to year.
The number of deaths averages out to 17.4 per every 100,000 live births, but the numbers are more troubling when broken down by age and race. For black women, the maternal mortality rate is 37.1 per every 100,000 live births, three times the rate for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women. For women age 40 or older, the rate was 81.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Yet the CDC says that three in five pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.
As of 2018, the life expectancy at birth is now 76.2 years for men, and 81.2 years for women, a 0.1 increase for both sexes. Those who were 65 years old in 2018 were expected to live another 18.1 years, for men, and another 20.7 years, for women. Those numbers also went up by 0.1.
Between 2017 and 2018, the 10 leading causes of death stayed the same. Heart disease is still No. 1 on the list, followed closely by cancer. The death rate then drops off for the rest of the list, which includes stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, unintentional injuries and suicide.
The rise in life expectancy was aided by a drop in death rates in two areas — drug overdoses and cancer. Overdoses decreased by 4.1 percent between 2017 and 2018, and cancer deaths went down by 2.2 percent.
“It’s good news, but we don’t know yet if it’s the beginning of a new trend,” Elizabeth Arias, a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics, told The New York Times.