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The coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic triggered global declines in life expectancy. The United States was hit particularly hard among high-income countries. Early data from the United States showed that these losses varied greatly by race/ethnicity in 2020, with Hispanic and Black Americans suffering much larger losses in life expectancy compared with White people. We add to this research by examining trends in lifespan inequality, average years of life lost, and the contribution of specific causes of death and ages to race/ethnic life-expectancy disparities in the United States from 2010 to 2020. We find that life expectancy in 2020 fell more for Hispanic and Black males (4.5 and 3.6 y, respectively) compared with White males (1.5 y). These drops nearly eliminated the previous life-expectancy advantage for the Hispanic compared with the White population, while dramatically increasing the already large gap in life expectancy between Black and White people. While the drops in life expectancy for the Hispanic population were largely attributable to official COVID-19 deaths, Black Americans saw increases in cardiovascular diseases and “deaths of despair” over this period. In 2020, lifespan inequality increased slightly for Hispanic and White populations but decreased for Black people, reflecting the younger age pattern of COVID-19 deaths for Hispanic people. Overall, the mortality burden of the COVID-19 pandemic hit race/ethnic minorities particularly hard in the United States, underscoring the importance of the social determinants of health during a public health crisis.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Publication Date