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The first global decline in life expectancy since World War II poses a major threat to the economy. Here’s how it impacted the U.S. and 30 other countries

December 6, 2022, 7:30 PM UTC

COVID’s devastation shows up starkly in life expectancy data: The pandemic’s peak marked the first time since World War II that LE (as demographers call it) declined across the globe. The graphic below is based on a data set that focuses mostly on Europe, but similar trends emerged worldwide. In the U.S., LE fell from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020—the biggest peacetime decline on record. LE has fallen particularly sharply among Americans ages 40 to 59, a trend that reflects the opioid and homicide crises as well as COVID. This human tragedy is compounded by an ominous economic dimension. Shorter life spans may presage slower growth in industries such as health care and financial services that cater to older people. Falling LE can also result in a smaller labor force, which in turn could have dire consequences; tax revenue could dry up, for example, and inflation could worsen if workers are scarce.

This article appears in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Fortune with the headline, “Life is too short.”

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