Americans are living longer. Who knew? Life expectancy in the United States has hit another high, rising above 78 years. However, the U.S. still ranks number 50 in the world. Macau tops the world with an average 2011 life expectancy of 89.3 years, and Japan ranks number five at 82.25 years.

The estimate of 78 years and 2 months is for a baby born in 2009. To be gender specific, male life expectancy is roughly 75.5; for females, it is about 80.5 years.

In addition, roughly 2.4 million people died in the United States in 2009, about 36,000 fewer than the year before. Experts do not believe there is one simple explanation for the increase in life expectancy, but better medical treatment, vaccination campaigns and public health measures against smoking are believed to be having an impact.

The infant mortality rate hit a record low of 6.42 deaths per 1,000 live births, a drop of nearly three percent from 2008.

The life expectancy at birth of the world is 67.2 years (65.0 years for males and 69.5 years for females) for 2005 to 2010, according to United Nations World Population Prospects 2006 Revision and 66.57 years (64.52 years for males and 68.76 years for females) for 2009 according to CIA World Factbook 2009.

Many of the countries with the lowest life expectancies, namely Swaziland, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, are suffering from very high rates of HIV/AIDS infection, with adult prevalence rates ranging from 10 to 38.8 percent. In countries with high infant mortality rates, the life expectancy at birth will be lower, and may not reflect the life expectancy of a person who has survived his or her first year of life.

Age-adjusted death rates declined significantly in the U.S. for 10 of the 15 leading causes of death in 2009: heart disease (declined by 3.7 percent), cancer (1.1 percent), chronic lower respiratory diseases (4.1 percent), stroke (4.2 percent), accidents/unintentional injuries (4.1 percent), Alzheimer’s disease (4.1 percent), diabetes (4.1 percent), influenza and pneumonia (4.7 percent), septicemia (1.8 percent), and homicide (6.8 percent).

In 2009, suicide passed septicemia (blood poisoning) to become the 10th leading cause of death. Although the U.S. suicide rate did not change significantly between 2008 and 2009, the number of suicides increased from 35,933 in 2008 to 36,547 in 2009 (1.7 percent increase). Deaths from septicemia declined one percent from 35,961 in 2008 to 35,587 in 2009. Otherwise, the rankings for the 15 leading causes of death did not change between 2008 and 2009.

Sources: The Center For Disease Control and Prevention and The Central Intelligence Agency Factbook

Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.