Life Expectancy: Your State and the World

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U.S. state life expectancy ranges from 74 to 81 years. This map shows state life expectancy with a selection of similar countries worldwide.

With 332 million souls spread across 3.8 million square miles, the United States of America is a diverse country. 

That applies to all sorts of measures – including life expectancy.

Life expectancy in U.S. states ranges from a high of 80.9 years in Hawaii (California is in a dead heat), to a low of 74.4 in Mississippi (CDC, 2019).

States with the highest life expectancy tend to be in the West and Northeast, while states with the lowest life expectancy are generally in the South.

Headline life expectancy figures can mask wide differences in gender. For example, average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.8 years, but for women it’s 81.4 and for men 76.3.

Mississippi has the largest difference in life expectancy between the sexes. In the state, women live 6.4 years longer than men. 

Utah has the smallest difference in life expectancy between the sexes. In the state, women live 3.5 years longer than men. 

Life expectancy is always in flux. For most of U.S. history, it increased. But recently, it has decreased. 

Amid the covid pandemic, life expectancy declined two years in a row, dropping 1.8 year in 2020 and 0.9 year in 2021, taking U.S. life expectancy to 76.1 years, its lowest level since 1996.

Life Expectancy Across the Planet

Life expectancy ranges are even broader across the world than in the U.S. The World Health Organization reports that a child born in a low-income country has an average life expectancy of around 63 years, compared to 80 in a high-income country. 

The average life expectancy worldwide is 73 years, just under the lowest states in the U.S.

According to the WHO, the U.S. ranked in 40th place among the 183 nations it measured in 2019.

At 84.3 years, Japan boasts the world’s longest life expectancy. Lesotho in southern Africa rounds out the bottom at 50.8 years.

Factors that Shape Life Expectancy

Whichever state you live in, it’s seen life expectancy skyrocket over the last century.

The nonprofit Population Reference Bureau reports that U.S. life expectancy rose from 47 years in 1900 to 79 years in 2014.

Why do some U.S. states have higher life expectancies than others? 

The PRB says key factors include public health, living standards, diet, and education. These, in turn, shape lifestyle patterns such as eating nutritious food, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking and excess drinking. 

Researchers have identified numerous other factors that may affect life expectancy. These range from genetics and personality traits to healthcare technology and pharmaceuticals, on to social determinants of health like social connections, childhood experiences, marital status, healthcare access and crime rates.

A HealthCare.com study also looked at the relationship between health insurance and life expectancy. Across the states, we found a positive if not strong statistical correlation between health insurance rates and life expectancy.

Comparing U.S. States with Worldwide Nations

With so many factors shaping life expectancy, it’s impossible to know exactly why, for example, top-ranked states such as Hawaii, California, and Massachusetts have a similar life expectancy as Kuwait, or for that matter, other countries in the 80-81 year bracket, Costa Rica and Chile. 

In some cases, comparing the leading causes of death in a given U.S. state and foreign country with close life expectancies suggests broadly similar health patterns. For example, California and Kuwait have roughly similar top ten causes of death.

Top 10 Causes of Death in California and Kuwait

California Leading Causes of Death Kuwait Leading Causes of Death
Heart Disease Heart Disease
Cancer Stroke
Stroke Influenza/Pneumonia
Alzheimer’s Disease Breast Cancer
Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases Accidents
Accidents Alzheimer’s Disease
Diabetes Hypertension
Influenza/Pneumonia Diabetes
Hypertension Kidney Disease
Chronic liver disease Prostate Cancer
California: CDC, 2017. Kuwait: WHO, 2020.

In other cases, however, a U.S. state and overseas nation can have quite different leading causes of death that likely show differing health patterns, but they still add up to similar life expectancies. For example, both U.S. bottom-ranked Mississippi and Bangladesh have life expectancies between 74 and 75 years, but looking at the top ten causes of death, they are quite different. Bangladesh shows a higher rate of infectious diseases as causes of death than Mississippi, making it difficult to tease apart how differing health factors can lead to similar life expectancies. 

Top 10 Causes of Death in Mississippi and Bangladesh

Mississippi Leading Causes of Death Bangladesh Leading Causes of Death
Heart Disease Stroke
Cancer Heart Disease
Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases Lung Disease
Accidents Diarrhoeal diseases
Stroke Tuberculosis
Alzheimer’s Disease Diabetes
Diabetes Influenza/Pneumonia
Influenza/Pneumonia Accidents
Kidney Disease Liver Disease
Septicemia Oesophagus Cancer
Mississippi: CDC, 2017. Bangladesh: WHO, 2020.

Life Expectancies in the Developed and Developing World Are Converging

While understanding how diverse factors shape life expectancy is complicated, one trend stands out. As health and nutrition have improved, developing regions have enjoyed massive gains in life expectancy, while developed regions have seen diminishing returns. 

In 1950, Our World in Data reports that developing Africa had an average life expectancy of 36.5 years, which grew to 63.2 in 2019, for a gain of 26.7 years. 

During the same period, the developed United States rose from 68.2 to 78.9 (Our World in Data uses United Nations data, with a 0.1-year discrepancy with CDC figures), for a smaller gain of 10.7 years. 

In other words, life expectancies are converging worldwide, with developing countries posting the most rapid improvements in recent years. 

For this reason, we shouldn’t be surprised to see life expectancies in U.S. states that are roughly similar to life expectancies in developing countries.

In the process, we might discard some obsolete stereotypes about life in the “developed” U.S. and “developing” nations around the world.

Countries with Similar Life Expectancies to U.S. States

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World life expectancy ranges from 51 to 84 years. This map shows only countries with similar life expectancies to U.S. states of 74 to 81 years. They tend to be in South and Central America, North Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia.

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