Covid-19 robbed humanity of years of life. According to a new Oxford University study published yesterday in the International Journal of Epidemiology, life expectancy at birth in 2020 was on average almost a year shorter than it was in 2019. The last time there was a comparable setback in a single year was during World War II.
The research looked at the 29 countries—27 European nations, the US, and Chile—for which high-quality data on mortality is available. In 22 of them, more than six months of life expectancy were lost to the pandemic. In 11, the loss of life expectancy surpassed a year for men. In eight it did so for women, too.
Women from 15 countries, and men from 10, had a life expectancy shorter in 2020 than they did in 2015. Men had the more significant losses. US males fared the worst, losing 2.2 years of life expectancy in 2020 compared to 2019, a loss compounded by a broader lagging of life expectancy in the country, which already trailed the rest of the wealthy world prior to the pandemic. Lithuania, where men lost 1.7 years, was the second worst.
Among women, Americans also saw the biggest reduction in life expectancy, losing 1.65 years. Overall, life expectancy in the US was 1.9 years less in 2020 than in 2019—77.2 years on average.
A measure of the broad impact of Covid-19
Life expectancy isn’t a projection of how long someone born in a specific year can actually expect to live. Instead, it’s a calculation of how long a hypothetical cohort of newborns from a specific year would live if they were to encounter life conditions similar to those of 2020, so it can be used as a description of current mortality patterns.
Even countries like Spain, Italy, and France, which have seen among the highest increases in life expectancy since 1960, experienced a significant drop in 20120.
Denmark and Norway were the only countries analyzed where life expectancy didn’t fall in 2020 for either men or women. In Finland, life expectancy was only reduced for men.
Although Covid-19 has a direct impact on these findings, killing an estimated 1.8 million people around the world, the decrease in life expectancy is also due to the gaps in healthcare, which are likely going to have a longer impact even after the end of the pandemic. These include, for instance, care delayed for fear of exposure to the virus, both for emergency conditions and for routine health monitoring.
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