Back in 1960, life expectancy in the US was 69.7 years as compared to 43.7 years. At the turn of the century, this gap had closed to 76.8 to 71.4 years. As of 2021, however, US life expectancy was 76.1 whereas life expectancy in China was 77.1, a full year ahead of the U.S.
Part of the reason for China pulling ahead was a bigger decrease in life expectancy in the US during COVID-19 (falling from 78.8 in 2019 to 77.1 in 2021) whereas life expectancy actually increased in China (76.9 to 77.1). But COVID does not explain the whole story.
“Unintentional injuries”—which include opioid overdoses and motor vehicle crashes—were the second-largest contributor to the drop in life expectancy, making up 15.9% of the decline [between 2019 and 2021 in the US].
The progress that China has made in health is truly remarkable. At the same time, the U.S. needs to better address “deaths of despair” and bend the curve back into the positive direction.