In general, one expects progress. One expects that medical advances will improve life expectancy. In recent years in the U.S., however, that is no longer the case. The CDC reports that:
…life expectancy at birth decreased in recent years for the first time since 1993. Between 2014 and 2015, life expectancy at birth decreased 0.2 years. Between 2015 and 2016, life expectancy at birth decreased another 0.1 years.
What is the cause of this decline? Is medicine failing us?
Actually, we observe sustained improvements in mortality for heart disease and cancer, two of the leading killers in the U.S.
During 2006–2016, heart disease and cancer (malignant neoplasms) were the top two causes of death. The age-adjusted heart disease death rate declined 19%, from 205.5 to 165.5 deaths per 100,000 resident population, over this period. The age-adjusted cancer death rate declined 14%, from 181.8 to 155.8 deaths per 100,000 resident population.
So what is the problem? Suicide rates, alcohol abuse, and opioid overdoses are three areas where mortality has gotten worse:
During 2006–2016, the suicide rate increased by an average of 1.7% per year. Chronic liver disease death rates increased by an average of 5.3% per year during 2012–2016 after an initial period of no change. The homicide and unintentional injuries death rates also increased sharply at the end of the period…In 2016, there were 63,632 deaths from drug overdoses—two-thirds (66.4%) of which involved an opioid. Between 2006 and 2016, the age-adjusted death rate for drug overdose increased from 11.5 to 19.8 deaths per 100,000.
Overall, life expectancy in the U.S. sits at 81.1 years for women and 76.1 years for men.
How does life expectancy vary across Europe? The Economist reports:
Although in global terms citizens of the EU live long (2.5 years more than in America and 4.6 years more than in China), the continent is divided. At the farthest ends of the spectrum, Spaniards from Madrid can expect to live to 85, but Bulgarians from the region of Severozapaden are predicted to live just past their 73rd birthday—a gap of almost 12 years. The only exceptions are Slovenia, which scrapes in above the EU average, and Denmark, which falls a fraction below.
Previously, the divide in life expectancy narrowed between Eastern and Western Europe due to a improved childhood mortality in Eastern Europe. However, higher rates of smoking and drinking in Eastern Europe has meant that Western Europe has pulled away in terms of life expectancy.