What Is the Average Life Expectancy of U.S. Males?

From 2020 to 2021, the average life expectancy for males in the United States fell from 74 to 73 years—the lowest it has been since 1996. Between 2019 and 2021, the average life expectancy for U.S. males declined by three years overall.

Experts largely attribute the decline to the COVID pandemic; the virus has since become the fourth leading cause of death in U.S. males. In 2022, the top three leading causes of death were heart disease, cancer, and unintentional injuries (particularly accidental drug overdoses).

This article takes a closer look at the average life expectancy and leading causes of death in U.S. males today. It also offers tips that can help you live a longer, healthier life.

Average Life Expectancy of U.S. Males

Due to medical advancements, improved hygiene and living conditions, and overall healthier lifestyles, life expectancy has risen significantly in the United States since the year 1900.

However, there have been a few exceptions. In 2019, the average age of death for men in the United States was about 76 years old. With the start of the COVID pandemic, life expectancy took a steep decline.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 deaths made up nearly 74% of the decline in life expectancy between 2019 to 2020, with a 50% decline noted between 2020 and 2021.

The average life expectancy for the general population of males dropped by three years between 2019 to 2021. However, some groups experienced larger declines in life expectancy than others:

  • American Indian and Alaskan Natives: 6.6 years
  • Hispanic Americans: 4.2 years
  • Black Americans: 4 years
  • White Americans: 2.4 years
  • Asian Americans: 2.1 years

Factors such as a lack of access to healthcare, preventive care, poverty, and food insecurity all contributed to these disparities.

Leading Causes of Death in Males

Since 1950, heart disease has consistently been the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. In 2019, one in every four male deaths was caused by heart disease. And, about one-quarter of all heart disease-related deaths occur in men ages 35 to 65.

Between 2019 and 2022, these were the leading causes of death in males:

 2019  2020  2021 2022*
Heart disease Heart disease Heart disease Heart disease
Cancer  Cancer Cancer Cancer
Unintentional death COVID-19 COVID-19 Unintentional death
Chronic lower respiratory disease Unintentional death Unintentional death COVID-19
Stroke Stroke Chronic lower respiratory disease Stroke
* provisional NCHS statistics

1

Heart Disease

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Blend Images / Getty Images


According to the most recent report from the NCHS, heart disease (otherwise known as coronary artery disease) killed 695,547 people in the United States in 2021. Death rates were nearly three times higher among men than women.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by the accumulation of fatty plaque that leads to the narrowing or blockage of one or more coronary arteries.

The main complication of CAD is a heart attack which commonly affects men around the age of 65. Other complications include arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) and heart failure.

To reduce your risk of CAD:

2

Cancer

According to the NCHS, 605,213 people died of cancer in the United States in 2021.

Though the cancer rate declined more among males than females (30% vs. 25%), the actual number of deaths is 19% higher in males, mainly from lung, prostate, pancreatic, and colon cancer.

There are several things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Don’t smoke: This includes avoiding secondhand smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet: This includes eating more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and fish, and cutting back on saturated fats and red meat.
  • Avoid air pollution: This includes exposure to chemicals at work and at home.
  • Keep up with screening tests: Ask your healthcare provider about screening recommendations for colorectal and prostate cancer.
  • Limit alcohol use: Men should drink no more than two drinks per day. High consumption has been linked to colon and rectal cancer.
  • Wear sunscreen: If you see any skin changes, have them checked by a dermatologist.

3

Unintentional Death

While heart disease, cancer, and stroke are largely aging-related, unintentional death is more common in adults under 65—and is, in fact, the leading cause of death in people under 45.

Unintentional deaths include falls, drowning, accidental poisoning, residential fires, motor vehicle crashes, and alcohol-impaired driving crashes.

In Western countries, men are almost four times more likely than women to have an accidental death due to motor vehicle accidents, drug overdose, homicide, suicide, or sports accidents.

Make a habit of the following to reduce your risk:

  • Exercise regularly: Improving strength, balance, and coordination can reduce your risk of falls.
  • Drink only in moderation: Alcohol use contributes to approximately 40% of residential fire deaths. It can also lead to falls, not to mention motor vehicle crashes.
  • Get routine eye checks: Get your eyes checked once per year to reduce your risk of falls and vehicular accidents.
  • Improve the lighting in your home: Good lighting allows for easy navigation and reduces the risk of falls.
  • Install smoke alarms: Reduce your risk of residential fire death by installing smoke alarms, testing them once per month, and switching out their batteries as needed.
  • Review medications with your healthcare provider: Make sure you understand what drugs can and cannot be mixed with your medications. Never mix substances unless your provider tells you to.

4

COVID-19

While COVID-19 may not kill as many people as it did during the height of the pandemic, it is still a major cause of concern for older adults. In 2021, COVID accounted for 460,000 deaths, placing it third overall as a leading cause of death.

That number has since decreased to 244,000 deaths in 2022.

The lion’s share of deaths occurred in people 65 and over, with the highest mortality rate seen in adults 85 and over. Males die at a rate 50% higher than females, a phenomenon not only seen in the U.S. but around the world.

Most deaths are due to septic shock (a life-threatening reaction to severe infections) and multiple organ failure.

If you are older, there are things you should do to avoid getting COVID-19:

  • Stay up to date with COVID vaccines: This not only includes getting your primary vaccine but your boosters as well.
  • Improve ventilation: Increase airflow in your home by opening windows and using fans, ventilators, and air conditioners. You can also try using a HEPA air purifier.
  • Move indoor activities outdoors: This is especially true if COVID hospital admissions are rising in your area.
  • Avoid sick people: This not only includes people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 but anyone who has symptoms of COVID.
  • Wear a face mask: If you are at risk of severe COVID, don’t be embarrassed to wear a mask if you are in a crowded space or event.
  • Get tested if you have COVID symptoms: Opt for a PCR test at a healthcare facility which is better at detecting the virus than an antigen test.

For older adults and those at risk of severe complications from COVID-19, the oral drugs Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ritonavir) and Lagevrio (molnupiravir), or the intravenous drug Verklury (remdesivir) may help reduce the risk of hospitalization and death if started within five to seven days of the appearance of symptoms.

5

Stroke

According to the NCHS, 162,890 people died from stroke in the United States in 2021. Roughly 62% of these deaths were among people 65 and over.

Overall, strokes and stroke deaths tend to affect women more than men. With that said, stroke rates are higher in males during midlife and only start to equalize when men and women are in their 80s.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is disrupted. A blockage or the rupture of a blood vessel can cause a stroke. High blood pressure greatly increases the risk of a stroke. High cholesterol and diabetes also contribute.

To reduce your risk of stroke:

  • Have your blood pressure checked: Treating high blood pressure lowers the risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • Drink in moderation: Some research shows that a little red wine or alcohol could protect against a stroke, but overdoing it is definitely dangerous.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking causes the buildup of plaque in arteries that can break and cause a blockage of blood flow to the brain.
  • Keep diabetes under control: Follow your treatment plan to manage your blood sugar.
  • Reduce your salt intake: This will help lower high blood pressure.
  • Exercise regularly: This will help you lose unwanted weight and control blood pressure to prevent a stroke.

6

Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

While unintentional death is technically a more common cause of death in males, it is a less common cause in males 65 and older. For this age group, chronic lower respiratory disease is a more common cause.

Chronic lower respiratory disease involves four major diseases: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

According to the NCHS, 145,859 people died from chronic lower respiratory diseases in 2021. Men were affected more than women. The majority of deaths were associated with COPD, 86% of which involved adults 65 and over.

To reduce your risk of COPD and other chronic lower respiratory diseases:

  • Never start smoking: Smoking accounts for as many as eight out of 10 COPD-related deaths.
  • If you smoke, quit: It can take several quit attempts, but smoking cessation aids are available that can help (many of which are fully covered under the Affordable Care Act).
  • Stay away from secondhand smoke: As many as one out of four Americans with COPD never smoked cigarettes. Reduce your risk exposure by avoiding tobacco smoke in any form, including pipes and cigars.

7

Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Health disparities between different racial and ethnic groups directly impact the mortality rate and average life expectancy in males (and females) in the United States.

Factors that can significantly lower life expectancy include:

  • Poverty
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Lack of health insurance
  • Low quality of care in poorer communities
  • Low food security
  • High rates of crime and violence (along with inadequate policing) in poorer communities
  • Poor air or water qualities
  • Language barriers that limit health literary and provider communication
  • Health behaviors and lack of trust in healthcare systems

These factors are prevalent in certain racial or ethnic groups, most predominately Black males and American Indian/Alaskan Native males. The impact is reflected in the most recent life expectancy report issued by the CDC and the National Center for Health Statistics in 2022:

  • Asian males: 81.2 years
  • Hispanic males: 74.4 years
  • White males: 73.7 years
  • Black males: 66.7 years
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native males: 61.5 years

That’s a span of almost a decade between the group with the longest longevity (Asian males) and the shortest longevity (American Indian/Alaskan Native).

Summary

Although the average life expectancy of U.S. males has risen over the past century, life expectancy has declined since 2019, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2021, the average age of death in men is 73 years old, with the most common causes of death being heart disease, cancer, unintentional deaths, COVID-19 infection, and stroke.

Healthy lifestyle habits, such as a nutritious diet and regular exercise, are essential for men to reduce the risk of heart disease, infection, cancer, and stroke. Due to their increased risk of accidental deaths, men should only drink in moderation and avoid risk-taking behaviors that could lead to accidental drownings, falls, or vehicular crashes.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sharon Basaraba

Sharon Basaraba is an award-winning reporter and senior scientific communications advisor for Alberta Health Services in Alberta, Canada.

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