2021 Final Stats: Death rates rise, life-expectancy drops in U.S.


According to this article from the Los Angeles Times, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released final death statistics for the calendar year 2021 last week.


It’s interesting to note that the death rate (the percentage of Americans who die in a given year) has risen at the same time that life expectancy (the number of years a new born is expected to live) has dropped.  There may be some correlation between those numbers, but there are a lot of variables involved.


For instance, one of the reasons that the death rate has risen is that many of America’s older citizens have lived longer than expected already.  A baby born in 1940 — that’s someone who is 82 years old today — had a life expectancy at birth of 60.8 years for a male and 65.2 years for a female.  Obviously, those people born in 1940 and still living have outlived their life expectancy by a fair period of time.


Today’s death rate is calculated as a number per one hundred thousand.  The CDC says that 879.7 people died during the year 2021 for every 100,000 of population.  I can remember, coming out of mortuary school in 1980, that number was 870.0.  So, there has not been a big shift per thousand.  But, the United States population was 226.5 million in 1980 so multiplying the death rate by that population number made for an estimated number of deaths of 1.97 million for that year (1980).


Even though the death rate has increased by only a slight rate since 1980, we now have 333.2 million people in the United States.  Partly because many older Americans have outlived their live expectancy rates set for them at birth.  Using that number and the new 879.7 per thousand rate would make for an estimated death rate in 2021 of 2.92 million. . . . . That’s almost 1 million more deaths in the United States than in 1980. . . .and as the population continues to grow it’s quite possible that number of deaths will continue to increase.


I’d suggest you read the article from the Los Angeles Times.  Knowing some of the statistics should help you in planning your funeral home business.  For instance, if you are in a population center of 40,000 people like our funeral home is, using the death rate would indicate that our community would have about 351 deaths per year.  I think that number is pretty accurate. . . .if we have, on average, many more deaths than that it may reflect that we are located in a retirement community.  If your community had quite a bit less deaths than the death rate would indicate, it may be indicative that you are in a community with a higher number of young families.  In any regard, it is one tool to help you look at the business numbers of your funeral home.


Here are some other interesting highlights from the CDC’s report according to the Los Angeles Times article:


  • The life expectancy of a baby born in 2021 is 76 years and five months.  That’s more than half a year shorter than it was for a baby born in 2020.  It is also the lowest number since 1996.


  • The top three causes of death in the United States in 2021 were:  (1) Heart Disease – 695,547 deaths,  (2)  Cancer – 605,213 deaths, and (3) Covid-19  – 416,893 deaths.


  • Helping to lower the average life expectancy was not necessarily Covid-19 deaths as many of the people who died of Covid-19 were near life expectancy age.  The biggest factor in lowering the life expectancy was drug overdose deaths of which there were 106,699 of in 2021.  Deaths by cocaine and methamphetamines rose in 2021, but the steepest hike in overdose deaths was attributed to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.


  • The decline in life expectancy is nothing like the plummet from 1915 to 1918.  At that time, mostly because of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, American life expectancy dropped from 54.5 years of age to 39.1 years of age in three years.


  • According to the article, By 2020, the average longevity of newborn Americans was 4.7 years lower than their counterparts in other wealthy places — closer to the averages seen in Peru and Thailand than to those of countries such as France, Israel or South Korea.


Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

Funeral Director Daily take:  Again, like I said in the factual information above — this is a really good and eye opening article about our lives as Americans and some of the events that alter those lives.


When researching the life expectancy from the 1940’s it reminded me of a discussion I had with my congressman in the 1980’s.  We were talking about Social Security and its inception into law in 1935.  I remember him telling me that it was one of the greatest generational innovations that America has produced in our history as a country.


He then also told me that Congress really only got one thing wrong with it. . . .but it was a big mistake.  That was that they never thought that the life expectancy of Americans would move much past the 60-65 years of age it was at that time the Social Security bill was passed.  He told me that it was planned, at its inception, that less than 20% of Americans would ever live long enough to collect even one Social Security check, much less live long enough to collect 20 or 30 years worth of those payments.  And, because those assumptions turned out wrong, we’ve been playing catch-up ever since and it has caused Social Security to be woefully short of providing the percentage of income for daily living than it was expected to for retired Americans in spite of raising the Social Security tax rates on working Americans and their employers.

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