University of Sourthern California


American Life Expectancy by State

A group of older people in a fitness classIn the arena of public health, one major area of ongoing interest is life expectancy and what affects it. From the 1500s to the 1800s, human life expectancy didn’t surpass age 50. Such low ages can be attributed in great part to a lack of medical care, insufficient sanitation and poor living conditions. Although it’s hard to imagine, doctors didn’t begin washing their hands before surgery until the mid-1800s.

The modern landscape and education of public health are very different now, and life expectancies have increased by at least 20 years across the country compared to the pre-industrial era. However, there are still discrepancies when comparing life expectancy by state.

Life Expectancy by State: Which Have the Highest and Lowest Expectancies?

Depending on location, life expectancy in the U.S. can vary by more than eight years.

States with Highest Life Expectancy

The following data represents the states with the highest life expectancy according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each state is listed in ascending order based on the years of life expectancy at birth.

  • Illinois: 76.8
  • Maryland: 76.8
  • Montana: 76.8
  • Pennsylvania: 76.8
  • North Dakota: 76.9
  • Florida: 77.5
  • Iowa: 77.5
  • New Jersey: 77.5
  • Virginia: 77.6
  • Nebraska: 77.7
  • New York: 77.7
  • Wisconsin: 77.7
  • Maine: 77.8
  • Rhode Island: 78.2
  • Colorado: 78.3
  • Connecticut: 78.4
  • Idaho: 78.4
  • Utah: 78.6
  • Oregon: 78.8
  • Vermont: 78.8
  • California: 79.0
  • Massachusetts: 79.0
  • New Hampshire: 79.0
  • Minnesota: 79.1
  • Washington: 79.2
  • Hawaii: 80.7

States with the Lowest Life Expectancy

The following data represents the states with the lowest life expectancy, according to the CDC. The list starts with the lowest life expectancy and ascends by years of life expectancy at birth by state.

  • Mississippi: 71.9
  • West Virginia: 72.8
  • Louisiana: 73.1
  • Alabama: 73.2
  • Kentucky: 73.5
  • Arkansas: 73.8
  • Tennessee: 73.8
  • Oklahoma: 74.1
  • New Mexico: 74.5
  • South Carolina: 74.8
  • Indiana: 75.0
  • Missouri: 75.1
  • Ohio: 75.3
  • Georgia: 75.6
  • Michigan: 76.0
  • North Carolina: 76.1
  • Arizona: 76.3
  • Nevada: 76.3
  • Wyoming: 76.3
  • Kansas: 76.4
  • Texas: 76.5
  • Alaska: 76.6
  • Delaware: 76.7
  • South Dakota: 76.7

Factors Affecting Life Expectancy

When looking at life expectancy by state, it’s apparent the states with the lowest life expectancy are primarily in the south. Nine of the lowest expectancy states are clustered together in the southeast region of the country. By comparison, the states with the highest life expectancy are primarily in the western and northeastern parts of the country.

This begs the question: why are people in southern states more vulnerable than elsewhere?

According to the academic publication Life & Letters, the answer lies in political policies. States with higher life expectancy generally have more liberal policies that protect marginalized groups and expand economic opportunities. It is estimated these policies increase life expectancy by as much as 2.8 years. By comparison, states with conservative policies are seeing decreases in life expectancy by as much as two years.

Public Health Factors Affecting Life Expectancy

Although political policies can play a role in life expectancy by state, several other public health factors must be considered. One element beyond anyone’s control is genetics. Some individuals are naturally predisposed to be more vulnerable to illnesses such as heart disease or cancer, which is why physicians are mindful of this when treating patients.

Another public health factor that plays a large role in life expectancy— and that can be controlled or changed — are people’s behaviors. People who engage in poor lifestyle habits such as smoking tobacco products, drinking alcohol in excess, not getting enough physical activity and having a poor diet tend not to live as long as those who have more health-positive behaviors, according to public health experts at the CDC. It should be noted that these behaviors are not always driven by choice, and can be affected by a variety of factors.

Factors that can influence lifestyle, life expectancy and health include:

  • Economic stability
  • Access to education
  • Access to health care resources
  • Environment and neighborhood
  • Social determinants of health such as racism and discrimination
  • Socio-economic status

Make a Difference in Public Health

Ongoing studies of life expectancy by state have uncovered data useful to public health experts. This has enabled them to implement targeted strategies in the areas of the country that need the most help. Through their efforts and with the assistance of local agencies, public health officials hope to close the gap in states with the lowest life expectancy.

Those who are interested in working in public health would do well to look into a program such as the Master of Public Health from USC.

In this online master’s degree program, students receive personalized instruction from thought leaders in the public health sector, ensuring they receive the best education possible. USC’s program offers concentrations such as biostatistics and epidemiology, community health promotion and global health, enabling students to focus their studies on an area that interests them most.

Take the first step toward your professional goals in public health with USC.


Recommended Readings

How Harm Reduction Services Improve Health Equity and Save Lives

Top 15 Public Health Book List from USC Online MPH Faculty

What Can You Do with a Master’s Degree in Public Health?


Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, “A Systematic Review of Sociodemographic, Macroeconomic, and Health Resources Factors on Life Expectancy”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Life Expectancy at Birth by State

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lifestyle Risk Factors

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics Reports, U.S. State Life Tables, 2020, Social Determinants of Health

Life & Letters, “Why Do People in Hawaii Live 7 Years Longer than People in Mississippi?”

Longevity.Technology, “What Factors Determine Longevity – And How Can They Be Harnessed?”

New England Journal of Medicine, “Childhood Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Adult Cardiovascular Events”

Verywell Health, “A Guide to Longevity Throughout History”