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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Life expectancy in Missouri dropped to a 40-year low in 2021, a trend driven by COVID-19 deaths, new research finds.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services revealed such findings in its recently-released 2021 vital statistics report. Life expectancy in the state dropped to 74.6 years in 2021, down from 75.0 in 2020 and 77.4 from the last pre-pandemic year of 2019.

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in Missouri in 2021, followed by heart disease and cancer. The report finds that COVID-19 deaths increased by 8.4 percent in 2021 from 2020 with more than 7,000 virus deaths reported each of the last two years.

The pandemic hit hard for young populations in Missouri. The median age for COVID-related deaths in the state decreased from around 80 in 2020 to 73 years in 2021. The death toll among people 65 who died from COVID-19 more than doubled from 995 in 2020 to 2,432 in 2021.

“The Delta variant prevalent in the summer of 2021 was particularly hard on young people and the fact that elderly Missourians were more fully vaccinated are factors that may have affected the shift to a higher proportion of COVID-related deaths among younger people,” the report states.

The report also cites these non COVID-19 related trends tied to life expectancy:

  • The largest percentage increase in deaths by cause in 2021 was for unintentional injuries or accidental deaths from drug overdoses. These types of deaths increased by 8.8 percent in 2021 and by nearly 50 percent since 2011.
  • Homicides decreased by 11 percent in 2021 from a record 802 deaths in 2020.
  • Other leading causes with increases in deaths in 2021 included suicides (4.1 percent), cancer (1.6) and diabetes (1.5 percent).
  • Causes of death that decreased included Alzheimer’s Disease (12.6 percent), nephritis or kidney disease (8.6 percent), chronic lung disease (16.8 percent), stroke (2.2 percent) and heart disease (1.6 percent).

“Record opioid overdose deaths and sharp increases in COVID-19 deaths among persons under age 65 contributed to the decrease in life expectancy,” says the report.”

According to the report, the life expectancy dropped as deaths outnumbered births statewide over the last two years. The report also notes “the difference in life expectancy between [men and women] increased to 6.1 years, the largest difference since 1997.”