What’s Happening to U.S. Mortality Rates?

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The brief’s key findings are:

  • Mortality rates, which determine life expectancy, are a key factor in cost projections for the Social Security program.
  • Mortality rates consistently improve over time, but the pace of progress varies by year, by age, and by socioeconomic status.
  • Over the past 40 years, progress has been driven by medical advances, better access to health care, and a decline in smoking, partly offset by rising obesity.
  • Looking to the future, mortality improvements will continue to depend on the same drivers, but the net effects could play out differently.
  • The key debate is whether the future will mirror the past, with average rates of improvement of about 1 percent, or whether the pace of progress will slow.