life expectancy grew from 66.5 years for men and 71.8 years for women in 1950 to 79.3 years for men and 83.8 years for women in 2007.
Despite this broad similarity in patterns of increased life expectancy among high-income countries, gains in the United States over the more recent past—especially the last 25 years—have been below those achieved in many other high-income countries and significantly below those achieved in countries that have seen the greatest increases. Table 1-1 presents estimates of life expectancy at birth (e0), at age 50 (e50), and at age 80 (e80) taken from the Human Mortality Database for both men and women from ten different countries and provides a sense of the extent of the mortality differentials. In 1980, average life expectancy at age 50 for women in the United States was 30.6 years, the same as the average for the other nine countries shown in Table 1-1. By 2007, life expectancy at age 50 for women in the United States had increased 2.5 years to 33.1. But over the same time period, life expectancy at age 50 in Japan had increased 6.4 years; in Italy it had increased 5.2 years; and on average, for the other nine countries apart from the United States shown in Table 1-1, it had increased 3.9 years. (This pattern of U.S. improvement, but at a slower pace than that achieved in many other countries, is repeated throughout Table 1-1 for both men and women although the pattern is less pronounced for men than for women.) Consequently, the list of countries that has overtaken the United States with respect to life expectancy at birth has been growing, and the gap between the United States and the countries with the highest achieved life expectancies has been widening (see Figures 1-1 and 1-2). According to the United Nations’ Population Division, life expectancy at birth in the United States for both sexes combined for the period 2005–2010 ranked 28th in the world, just behind the United Kingdom, Korea, Luxembourg, and Malta but more than 2 years behind Australia, Canada, France, Iceland, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland (United Nations, 2009).
New life tables published by NCHS suggest that the extent of the U.S. disadvantage could be even greater than that suggested in Table 1-1.1 NCHS recently accepted that the prevalence of age misreporting at the oldest ages in U.S. census data is significant enough to lead to underestimated death rates at those ages. As a result, NCHS has revised the basic methodology used to calculate the U.S. life table, which now yields lower estimates of life expectancy at all ages (Arias et al., 2010). The most recent life table for the United States published by NCHS provides estimates of life expectancy at 50 in 2006 that are approximately 0.6 years lower for women and 0.5 years lower for men than the estimates provided in the Human Mortality Database (Arias et al., 2010).