Longer American Life Expectancy Means More Time to Enjoy This Dying Planet

According to new data from the CDC released Thursday, American life expectancy has increased by…. a whopping whole month! It’s a tiny amount, but a notable one: This new report marks the first time in four years that average life expectancy in the United States has gone up, rather than declined or held steady. The CDC attributes the bonus month to a number of factors, including declining death rates from cancer and drug overdoses (two leading killers in the U.S.). By the new estimation, a person born in 2018 is expected to live 78 years and 8 months.

Because cancer is the second leading cause of death (just behind heart disease), dips in cancer death rates make a huge impact on the overall life expectancy. Rebecca Siegel, a researcher for the American Cancer Society, told the New York Times she believes the decline in cancer deaths is driven most by lower rates and better treatment of lung cancer. And while overall drug overdose–related deaths decreased, deaths from fentanyl, cocaine, and meth rose. Experts attribute the the decrease in heroin deaths to better access to treatment, and widespread distribution of Narcan.

It’s very nice that those born in 2018 will enjoy slightly longer lives, but what about all us suckers who have already BEEN living? Looking back at life expectancies for people born in 1981 and 1996 (the bookend years for millennials), those born in 2018 are projected to live between two to four years longer. That’s a lot of extra bucket list time; a person can do a lot in two years! But according to a separate report from November 2019, millennials, in particular, may not even want that extra time: Millennials, in particular, are poised to be sicker, die faster, and spend more on healthcare than previous generations, despite taking more efforts to be healthy. By those projections, I can’t frankly imagine being able to enjoy, much less afford, a few extra years of being alive :).

A separate report, this one from Commonwealth Fund, also released Thursday morning, gives a little extra perspective on the CDC report. When compared to 10 other “high-income nations” (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy and highest suicide rate, and also—unsurprisingly—spends a far bigger share of its economy on healthcare. Despite paying buckets of money, Americans somehow also spend the most time in the hospital for preventable diseases, visit their physicians less (which is a problem of both doctor supply, and affordability of care), and have the highest rates of preventable deaths compared to their peer nations.

It’s difficult to embrace any joie de vivre, given the clear evidence that people in countries where healthcare is more affordable and accessible are living longer, healthier lives. But luckily, I don’t really have to; I’ve really only got about 50ish years left, if I’m lucky, and a portion of those will probably be spent in medical debt, and in a hospital staffed by one overworked doctor. Best of luck to everyone else!

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