Study Shows How COVID-19 Widened the Racial Gap in Life Expectancy in the United States

A new study by scholars at Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Colorado, and the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., found that the COVID-19 pandemic produced the greatest decline in life expectancy in the United States and other developed nations since the devastation caused by World War II. The decline in life expectancy hit the African American community particularly hard and increased the racial gap in life expectancy.

The study found that the gap in life expectancy between Black and White populations decreased from 4.02 years in 2010 to 3.54 years in 2014. But the gap increased to 5.81 years in 2020. The study found that between 2018 and 2020, life expectancy for African Americans decreased by 3.25 years. For non-Hispanic White Americans, life expectancy dropped by only 1.36 years. The reduction in life expectancy among African Americans was 18 times the average drop in life expectancy in other developed nations.

In 2020, life expectancy for Black men was only 67.73 years, the lowest level since 1998. The racial gap in life expectancy between Black and White men was nearly seven years. In 2018, the racial gap was less than five years. For African American women the racial gap in life expectancy was 4.6 years in 2020, up from 3 years in 2018.

The authors of the study conclude that “evidence of disproportionate reductions in life expectancy among racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. draws attention to the root causes of racial inequities in health, wealth, and wellbeing. Foremost among these root causes is systemic racism; extensive research has shown that systems of power in the U.S. structure opportunity and assign value in ways that unfairly disadvantage Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Indigenous populations, and unfairly advantage White people. Many of the same factors placed these populations at greater risk from Covid-19.”

The full study. “Effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2020 on Life Expectancy Across Populations in the USA and Other High-Income Countries: Simulations of Provisional Mortality Data,” was published in the British Medical Journal. It may be accessed here.

Related Articles


  1. Let’s not blame just racism. Poor health choices and unhealthy lifestyle are also to blame and many Black folks are complacent to this type of low quality of life. I remember reading a survey years ago that showed that poor African American residents in a northeastern city refused to have healthy food stores and food markets encroaching into their neighborhoods. Though I believe that it could be their fears of gentrification and the unknown. Even if they the food items are affordable, many opted instead to continue to have corner stores, bodegas, liquor stores and Southern style restaurants, which sells fatty foods. Is racism to blame for their choices and consuming patterns?

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

HBCUs Receive Major Funding From Blue Meridian Partners

The HBCU Transformation Project is a collaboration between the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), and Partnership for Education Advancement. Forty HBCUs are currently working with the project and additional campuses are expected to join this year. The partnership recently received a $124 million investment from Blue Meridian Partners.

Four African American Scholars Who Are Taking on New Duties

Channon Miller is a new assistant professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and Quienton L. Nichols is the new associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. M. D. Lovett has joined Clark Atlanta University as an associate professor of psychology and associate professor Robyn Autry was named director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

U.S. News and World Report’s Latest Rankings of the Nation’s Top HBCUs

Spelman College in Atlanta was ranked as the best HBCU and Howard University in Washington, D.C., was second. This was the same as a year ago. This was the 17th year in a row that Spelman College has topped the U.S. News rankings for HBCUs.

University of Georgia’s J. Marshall Shepherd Honored by the Environmental Law Institute

Dr. Shepherd is a professor of geography, the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor, and the director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia. Before joining the faculty at the University of Georgia, he was a research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. Shepherd is an expert in the fields of weather, climate, and remote sensing.

Featured Jobs