Life Expectancy in America Hits Record High

Old People See Big Picture Better

The average life expectancy for Americans is 77.6 years, a record high according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC released the numbers Monday. Life expectancy is calculated based on mortality in 2003, the most recent year for which substantially complete data is available.

The figure is up from 77.3 in 2002 and comes in spite of a decades-long rise in obesity reported by the agency in October.

The new CDC report also shows that the gender gap is closing. The difference between life expectancy in men and women (who live longer) closed from 5.4 years in 2002 to 5.3 years in 2003. The gap as 7.8 years in 1979.

The report, "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2003," was prepared by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

Among the conclusions were record-high life expectancies in several categories:

  • White males - 75.4 years
  • Black males - 69.2 years
  • White females - 80.5 years
  • Black females - 76.1 years

Hawaii had the lowest, or best mortality rate while Mississippi had the highest.

Positive numbers

Age-adjusted death rates declined for eight of the 15 leading causes of death, including the two leading causes of death: heart disease (down 3.6 percent) and cancer (down 2.2 percent). Strokes were off 4.6 percent and suicide was down 3.7 percent.

For decades, heart disease was the nation's top killer. Cancer took its place for Americans 85 and younger as of 2002, according to a separate report released in January.

Some other encouraging findings:

  • Firearm mortality dropped nearly 3 percent between 2002 and 2003.
  • The preliminary age-adjusted death rate for HIV declined 4.1 percent between 2002 and 2003, continuing a downward trend observed since 1994.
  • Age-adjusted death rates from alcohol dropped 4.3 percent and the rate for drug-related deaths fell 3.3 percent over the previous year.

Mortality rates climbed, however, for Alzheimer's disease, kidney disease, hypertension, and Parkinson's disease, which entired the top 15 for the first time.

The leading causes of death For Americans in 2003

LiveScience Chart / SOURCE: CDC

Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.