Recent research led by UC San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reveals a concerning trend in the United States: the life expectancy gap between men and women is widening, reaching its largest margin since 1996.
This study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that by 2021, the life expectancy gap had increased to 5.8 years, up from 4.8 years in 2010.
Pandemic and Overdose Epidemic Driving Factors
The COVID-19 pandemic has been identified as the primary driver of this increasing gap from 2019 to 2021, disproportionately affecting men’s mortality rates.
Additionally, unintentional injuries and poisonings, primarily drug overdoses, along with accidents and suicide, have significantly contributed to the widening disparity.
Declining Life Expectancy in the US
The overall life expectancy in the US has seen a decline, dropping to 76.1 years in 2021 from 78.8 years in 2019.
This decrease is partly attributed to “deaths of despair,” including suicide, drug use disorders, and alcoholic liver disease, often linked to economic hardship and stress.
While both men and women have seen increased rates of death from drug overdose and homicide, men are disproportionately affected.
Brandon Yan, MD, MPH, the study’s first author, emphasizes the need for focused research on why men are increasingly bearing the brunt of these deaths.
Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the researchers identified the key causes of death lowering life expectancy and analyzed their differential impact on men and women.
Prior to the pandemic, the leading contributors included unintentional injuries, diabetes, suicide, homicide, and heart disease.
During the pandemic, men were more likely to die from COVID-19, with factors such as health behaviors, occupational exposure risks, and social factors like incarceration and housing instability playing roles.
The findings suggest a potential need for more specialized care for men, particularly in areas such as mental health, to address the growing disparity in life expectancy.
Yan calls for future research to focus on public health interventions that could reverse this decline.
Monitoring Trends Beyond 2021
Senior author Howard Koh, MD, MPH, highlights the importance of closely tracking these trends as the pandemic recedes and stresses the need for significant investments in prevention and care.
This is crucial to ensure that the widening gap in life expectancy, among other disparities, does not become a permanent trend.
In conclusion, this study sheds light on the alarming increase in the life expectancy gap between men and women in the US, driven largely by the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid overdose epidemic.
It underscores the urgency of targeted public health interventions and research to understand and address the underlying causes of this disparity.
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The research findings can be found in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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