Life Expectations Falling for Native Americans: Here’s Why

Noreen Goldman of Princeton University and Dr. Theresa Andrasfay. ’20 of the University of Southern California investigated the average life expectancy in 2020 and 2021 – when rates of COVID-19 were skyrocketing – compared with 2019.

Longevity is a population-level mortality metric for a given year, and it is sensitive to deaths at a younger age.


The pandemic left Native Americans behind other major racial and ethnic groups in life expectancy. For a high-income country, these numbers are staggeringly low, and much lower than every country in the Americas, with the exception of Haiti, the researchers say.

  • The estimated median life expectancy for Native Americans is 4.5 years in 2020 and 6.4 in 2021 compared to 2019.
  • The pandemic has reduced the average Native American life expectancy from an already low 72 years in 2019 to about 67 years in 2020 and about 65 years in 2021 for both sexes combined.
  • Men and women both experience an average reduction in life expectancy of about 6 years from birth.
  • Women’s life expectancy is 69 in 2021, 71 in 2020 – compared with 75 in 2019.
  • Life expectancy for men is 62 in 2021, 64 in 2020 – down from 69 in 2019.
  • Native Americans experienced a reduction in life expectancy from the median life expectancy in 2020 that was 3 years higher for whites and 1.5 years than the reduction for blacks and Latinos.

While much of this decline is directly attributable to COVID-19 deaths, death rates from certain chronic diseases have also increased significantly for Native Americans during the pandemic. People with “prolonged COVID” or comorbidities may be more likely to die from non-COVID causes, and harmful health behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and drug use are also more likely to occur. becoming more common during this time – all of which have the potential to contribute to increased mortality.


Policy point

Despite a successful vaccination campaign among Native Americans, the loss in life expectancy at birth in 2021 unexpectedly exceeds that in 2020. There are several plausible explanations for this disturbing finding. :

  • The vaccine was not made available to the public in January and February 2021, two of the deadliest months of the pandemic.
  • Two highly contagious variants (Delta and Omicron), partly evading natural immunity and acquired by vaccine, appear in 2021.
  • Many Native Americans, like the general population of the United States, remain unvaccinated or unvaccinated.
  • Deaths from certain chronic diseases and drug overdoses have increased for all populations during the pandemic, contributing to these dire numbers.

Most importantly, Native Americans continue to experience massive social, economic, and health inequalities, some of which span centuries, and all of which increase their risk of contracting COVID- 19, hospitalization and death.

“The massive financial investment in the US Rescue Plan to strengthen the identification and treatment of COVID-19 cases and strengthen the public health infrastructure for Native Americans is a step forward. significantly.” – Noreen Goldman, Princeton School of Public and International.

Source: Eurekalert

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