CDC Says US Life Expectancy Rises for First Time in 4 Years, Report Fewer Cancer and Drug Overdose Deaths

The report noted that 8 of the 10 leading causes of death saw lower rates of death in 2018.

Life expectancy at birth increased from 78.6 years in 2017 to 78.7 years in 2018, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics. The report noted that 8 of the 10 leading causes of death saw lower rates of death in 2018.1

For males, life expectancy increased from 76.1 in 2017 to 76.2 in 2018, while the female life expectancy increased from 81.1 to 81.2 during the same period. The difference in life expectancy between men and women remained the same between 2017 and 2018—5.0 years.1

The 10 leading causes of death also remained the same: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide. They accounted for 73.8% of all deaths in the US in 2018.1

All but 2 of the leading causes saw decreases between 2017 and 2018.1

  • Deaths from heart disease, the leading cause of death, decreased from 165 deaths per 1000 to 163.6 deaths per 1000.
  • Cancer-attributed deaths decreased from 152.5 deaths per 1000 to 149.1 deaths per 1000.
  • The number of deaths from unintentional injuries decreased from 49.4 deaths per 1000 to 48.0 deaths per 1000.
  • Deaths due to chronic lower respiratory diseases decreased from 40.9 deaths per 1000 to 39.7 deaths per 1000.
  • Stroke-related deaths decreased from 37.6 deaths per 1000 to 37.1 deaths per 1000.
  • Alzheimer disease-attributed deaths decreased from 31.0 deaths per 1000 to 30.5 deaths per 1000.
  • The number of deaths attributed to diabetes decreased from 21.5 deaths per 1000 to 21.4 deaths per 1000.
  • Deaths from influenza and pneumonia increased by 0.6 deaths per 1000, from 14.3 deaths per 1000 to 14.9 deaths per thousand.
  • Deaths due to kidney disease also increased, from 13.0 deaths per 1000 to 12.9 deaths per 1000.
  • Suicide-related deaths decreased, from 14.0 deaths per 1000 to 14.2 deaths per 1000.

Previously, US life expectancy had decreased by 0.3 years between 2014 and 2017. According to the CDC, this decrease was mostly attributed to increases in mortality due to unintentional injuries, Alzheimer disease, and suicide.1 The new increase in life expectancy can be mostly attributed to decreases in mortality from cancer, unintentional injuries, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.1

Although drug overdose deaths are not among the 10 leading causes of death in the US, a significant decrease in drug overdose-related deaths has also contributed to the increased life expectancy. For 14 states and Washington, DC, the drug overdose death rate was lower in 2018 than in 2017. Five states (California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, and South Carolina) saw higher rates in 2018 than in 2017.2

Nationally, the number of drug overdose deaths decreased by 4.1% between 2017 and 2018—from over 70,000 in 2017 to 67,367 in 2018. While deaths due to natural and semisynthetic opioids and deaths from heroin decreased slightly between 2017 and 2018, deaths due to synthetic opioids other than methadone saw a notable 10% increase during the same period.2

Drug overdoses, along with the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, contribute to the vast majority of deaths annually. While the increase in life expectancy is encouraging, continued work involving healthy living, novel treatments for illnesses such as cancer, and increased awareness is all necessary to continue the trend.


  • Xu J, Murphy S, Kochanek K, Arias E. Mortality in the United States, 2018. National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief, Jan. 2020. Accessed Jan 31, 2020.
  • Hedegaard H, Minino A, Warner M. Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999-2018. National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief, Jan. 2020. Accessed Jan 31, 2020.