NYC Life Expectancy Bounces Back From 2020 Losses But Remains Nearly Two Years Below Pre-COVID Levels

February 9, 2024

Following a historic drop in life expectancy in 2020, New York City regained some of those lost years.

However, lifespans remain below pre-COVID lengths, and at their lowest point in more than a decade, according to the final Summary of Vital Statistics for 2021. The report looks at births, deaths, and lifespans in New York City, and is published annually. The 2021 data, delayed due to lags from the COVID emergency, show that while life expectancy rose from 78 years in 2020 to 80.7 years in 2021 — an increase of 2.7 years – it remains lower than the high of 82.6 years before the COVID pandemic, and is at its lowest point since 2009, not counting 2020.

The reason for the increase is primarily due to lower numbers of deaths related to COVID-19 in 2021 compared to 2020, where 50 percent of the total COVID-19 mortality occurred in the first three months of the pandemic. These findings — many of which were included in the HealthyNYC report — also identify increasing preventable causes of premature death, including from diabetes, heart disease, and overdose, that continue to take far too many New Yorkers’ lives too soon, and are leading to persistent lags in life expectancy.

In response to this sustained drop in life expectancy from COVID and non-COVID causes, the Health Department launched HealthyNYC this past November, an ambitious plan to improve the lives and extend the average lifespan of all New Yorkers as a unifying, cross-sector and cross-agency population health agenda for New York City.

The campaign sets ambitious targets to address the greatest drivers of overall death, premature deaths, and excess deaths, and the most stark racial and social inequities therein, including chronic and diet-related diseases, screenable cancers, overdose, suicide, maternal mortality, violence, and COVID-19.

The campaign also identifies cross-cutting issues that influence these causes of death, including access to healthcare, mental health, social needs, and climate change. Overall, the campaign aims to extend the average life expectancy of New Yorkers to 83 years by 2030 – the highest recorded life expectancy ever in New York City – with gains across racial and ethnic groups, and to prevent approximately 7,300 deaths in the process.

“While we are pleased that New Yorkers’ lifespans have begun to recover from the unprecedented decline in 2020, we still have much have work to do to ensure that all New Yorkers live healthier, longer lives,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “New Yorkers continue to lose life years and quality of life due to diabetes, heart disease, overdose, suicide, and a range of other issues that can be prevented. But preventing these deaths will require intentional and coordinated citywide effort and investments – exactly the strategies outlined in HealthyNYC, our city’s agenda to reach our highest ever life expectancy of 83 years, by 2030. Through HealthyNYC we will ensure healthier and longer lives are both an expectation and a promise, toward making New York City the healthiest big city in the world.”

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Inequities continue to persist in the data as legacies of contemporary and historical racism drive disparities in lifespans. Black New Yorkers had the lowest life expectancy among racial/ethnic groups at 76.1 years, while White New Yorkers had the highest at 81.8 years.

These inequities narrowed in 2021, compared to 2020, but the gaps remain greater than 2019 levels and their second widest since the Health Department began calculating life expectancy by race and ethnicity in 2000.

Heart disease and cancer ranked as the top two leading causes of death in 2021, while COVID dropped to third leading cause from number two in 2020, followed by drug overdoses. 

Drug-related death rates increased for all racial/ethnic groups from 2020 to 2021, and disparities among groups continue to remain high. The 2021 drug-related death rate was highest among Black New Yorkers, and was 1.5 times the rate for White New Yorkers.

The drug-related death rate by age was highest among New Yorkers ages 55-64 years. And while drug-related deaths have increased across New York City for the past 10 years, the increase was highest in very high poverty neighborhoods.

Data in the report include:

  • A steep drop in the COVID-19 crude mortality rate, which fell from 241.3 deaths per 100,000 population in 2020 to 97.2 per 100,000 population in 2021.
  • New York City’s age-adjusted premature death rate (age <65 years) increased by 48.8% from 2019 to 2020. In contrast, the citywide age-adjusted premature death rate decreased by 13.9% from 2020 (268.2 per 100,000 population) to 2021 (230.8 per 100,000 population). However, the rate is still higher than the rate of 180.2 in 2019 before the pandemic.
  • Diabetes has risen from the 8th leading cause of premature death in 2000, and the 7th leading cause in 2010, to the 5th in 2020, but dropped to 7th in 2021.
  • Over the past ten years, the premature death rate for heart disease increased by 13.9%.
  • The infant mortality rate was 4.0 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2021, a 2.6% increase from 2020, and the rate for non-Hispanic/Latino Black New Yorkers was 5.1 times the rate for non-Hispanic/Latino Whites. The rate may vary from year to year due to small numbers.

The HealthyNYC goals address many of the leading causes of death by setting the following 2030 targets.

  • Reduce cardiovascular disease and diabetes deaths by 5 percent by 2030;
  • Reduce screenable cancer deaths — including lung, breast, colon, cervical, and prostate cancers — by 20 percent by 2030;
  • Reduce overdose deaths by 25 percent by 2030;
  • Reduce suicide deaths by 10 percent by 2030;
  • Reduce homicide deaths by 30 percent by 2030;
  • Reduce pregnancy-associated mortality among Black women by 10 percent by 2030; and
  • Reduce COVID-19 deaths by 60 percent by 2030.

The Annual Summary of Vital Statistics, the Health Department’s yearly report of births and deaths in New York City, is compiled by the agency’s Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Its tables, graphs and figures present health statistics according to racial/ethnic group, gender, age, neighborhood poverty, community district and borough of residence.

Death rates are age-adjusted when the adjustment facilitates comparisons over time, among geographic areas, and by other demographics.

Vital Statistics Annual Summaries as far back as 1961 are available at

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