Why Is Life Expectancy So Low in the United States?

Alicia H. MunnellJames G. Lee Robert E. Hatch

IB#21

Introduction

The United States is the richest major country in the world in terms of per capita gross domestic product (GDP). Since longevity is clearly associated with income, America’s older citizens must live longer than their counterparts in other large industrial nations. Right? Wrong! Among the 30 developed countries that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), American life expectancy at age 65 for both males and females falls in the middle of the group. More than that, we are not expected to catch up anytime soon. The improvement in U.S. life expectancy, as projected by the Social Security Administration, implies that a 65-year-old American woman in 2050 will live about as long as a 65-year-old Japanese woman lives today. What are the implications of this unimpressive showing? And what explains the poor U.S. performance?…