• The COVID-19 pandemic reduced life expectancy in 2020 by the largest amount since World War Two, according to a new study.
  • Life expectancy fell by more than six months compared with 2019 in 22 of 29 countries studied.
  • There have been nearly 5 million reported deaths caused by COVID-19 to date.

The COVID-19 pandemic reduced life expectancy in 2020 by the largest amount since World War Two, according to a study published on Monday by Oxford University, with the life expectancy of American men dropping by more than two years.

Life expectancy fell by more than six months compared with 2019 in 22 of the 29 countries analysed in the study, which spanned Europe, the United States and Chile. There were reductions in life expectancy in 27 of the 29 countries overall.

The university said most life expectancy reductions across different countries could be linked to official COVID-19 deaths. There have been nearly 5 million reported deaths caused by the new coronavirus so far, a Reuters tally shows.

"The fact that our results highlight such a large impact that is directly attributable to COVID-19 shows how devastating a shock it has been for many countries," said Dr Ridhi Kashyap, co-lead author of the paper, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

There were greater drops in life expectancy for men than women in most countries, with the largest decline in American men, who saw life expectancy drop by 2.2 years relative to 2019.

a chart showing cumulative covid deaths worldwide
There have been nearly 5 million reported deaths caused by COVID-19 to date.
Image: Our World in Data

Overall, men had more than a year shaved off in 15 countries, compared to women in 11 countries. That wiped out the progress on mortality that had been made in the previous 5.6 years.

health and healthcare, COVID

How has the Forum navigated the global response to COVID-19?

One year on: we look back at how the Forum’s networks have navigated the global response to COVID-19.

Using a multistakeholder approach, the Forum and its partners through its COVID Action Platform have provided countless solutions to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, protecting lives and livelihoods.

Throughout 2020, along with launching its COVID Action Platform, the Forum and its Partners launched more than 40 initiatives in response to the pandemic.

The work continues. As one example, the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs is supporting 90,000 social entrepreneurs, with an impact on 1.4 billion people, working to serve the needs of excluded, marginalized and vulnerable groups in more than 190 countries.

Read more about the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, our support of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemics Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI), and the COVAX initiative and innovative approaches to solve the pandemic, like our Common Trust Network – aiming to help roll out a “digital passport” in our Impact Story.

In the United States, the rise in mortality was mainly among those of working age and those under 60, while in Europe, deaths among people aged over 60 contributed more significantly to the increase in mortality.

Kashyap appealed to more countries, including low- and middle-income nations, to make mortality data available for further studies.

“We urgently call for the publication and availability of more disaggregated data to better understand the impacts of the pandemic globally,” she said.

Reporting by Victor Jack; Editing by Alistair Smout and David Gregorio