Health United States 2020-2021

Life expectancy

The average number of years of life remaining to a person at a particular age and based on a given set of age-specific death rates—generally, the mortality conditions existing in the period mentioned. Life expectancy may be determined by sex, race and Hispanic origin, or other characteristics, by using age-specific death rates for the population with that characteristic. (Also see Sources and Definitions, Rate: Death and related rates.)

U.S. life tables by Hispanic origin are available starting with 2006 data. Life expectancy data for the Hispanic population were not available before 2006 for three major reasons: (a) coverage of the Hispanic population in the U.S. mortality statistics system was incomplete, (b) misclassification of Hispanic people on death certificate data underestimated deaths in the Hispanic population, and (c) misstatement of age at the oldest ages in the Hispanic population led to an underestimation of mortality at the oldest ages.

Hispanic origin was added to the U.S. Standard Certificate of Death in 1989, but it was not adopted by every state until 1997. By 1997, all states had reporting rates over 99%. The latest research on race and Hispanic origin reporting on U.S. death certificates found that reporting for total non-Hispanic White and total non-Hispanic Black deaths is highly accurate, while 3% of total Hispanic deaths are misclassified. For more information, see: Arias E, Heron M, Hakes JK. The validity of race and Hispanic-origin reporting on death certificates in the United States: An update. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 2(172). 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_02/sr02_172.pdf. To address the effects of age misstatement at the oldest ages, the probability of death for Hispanic people over age 80 is estimated as a function of non-Hispanic White mortality with the use of the Brass relational logit model. For more information, see: Arias E. United States life tables by Hispanic origin. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 2(152). 2010. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_02/sr02_152.pdf.

Life tables are used in the calculation of life expectancy and have been available since 1945. From 1945 through 1996, the annual life tables were abridged life tables, closed at age 85 and over, and constructed by reference to a standard table. Beginning with 1997 mortality data, a new methodology similar to that of the 1989–1991 decennial life tables was used to estimate annual complete life tables to age 100, with combined life table values presented for ages 100 and over. The methodology was again revised for 2000­–2007 using a methodology similar to that of the 1999­–2001 decennial life tables. Beginning with 2008 data, the life table methodology was refined by changing the smoothing technique used to estimate the life table functions at the oldest ages. All intercensal life tables (2001­–2009) were revised with the new methodology and the intercensal population estimates. For a full description of the 2008 life table methodology—the methodology used to estimate the current U.S. life tables—see: Arias E. United States life tables, 2008. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 61 no 3. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_03.pdf. Starting with Health, United States, 2016, life expectancy estimates for 2010 and beyond are revised to reflect updated race and Hispanic-origin classification ratios. See: Arias E, Heron M, Hakes JK. The validity of race and Hispanic-origin reporting on death certificates in the United States: An update. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 2(172). 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_02/sr02_172.pdf. Additional life table estimates are available from the National Center for Health Statistics life tables website at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/life_tables.htm.

Starting in 2019, life expectancy estimates for non-Hispanic Asian and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native populations became available. The 1997 “Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity” allows people to report more than one race and increases the race choices from four to five by separating the Asian or Pacific Islander group. (Also see Sources and Definitions, Race.) The separation of these populations, which have distinct health and mortality profiles, and improvements in race reporting on death certificates, made it possible to estimate reliable life tables for the non-Hispanic Asian population. The results of a new study about the effects of racial and ethnic misclassification on death certificates on American Indian or Alaska Native mortality statistics were used to produce the first complete set of annual life tables for the non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native population. For more information, see: Arias E, Xu JQ. United States life tables, 2019. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 70 no 19. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2022. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr70/nvsr70-19.pdf; and Arias E, Xu JQ, Curtin S, Bastian B, Tejada-Vera B. Mortality profile of the non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native population, 2019. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 70 no 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2021. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr70/NVSR70-12.pdf.

Page last reviewed: August 12, 2022