Americans Living Longer Than Ever

Living Longer: USA flag and map, silhouette of people AP / CBS

An American baby born today can expect to live just under 78 years, the longest life expectancy in U.S. history - and nearly nine years longer than half a century ago, according to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the most recent government figures available, from 2005, women still outlive men and white Americans are still outliving their black neighbors by nearly five years. On the global stage, the United States still lags behind more than three dozen other countries.

More bad news: The annual number of U.S. deaths rose from 2004 to 2005, a depressing uptick after the figure had dropped by 50,000 from 2003 to 2004.

U.S. life expectancy at birth inched up to 77.9 from the previous record, 77.8, recorded for 2004. The increase was more dramatic in contrast with 1995, when life expectancy was 75.8, and 1955, when it was 69.6.

The improvement was led by a drop in deaths from heart disease and stroke - two of the nation's leading killers, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the new life expectancy report Wednesday.

"If death rates from certain leading causes of death continue to decline, we should continue to see improvements in life expectancy," said Hsiang-Ching Kung, in a prepared statement. Kung is a survey statistician who co-authored the report.

The report also described a slight increase in the infant mortality rate, from 6.8 per 1,000 live births in 2004 to 6.9 in 2005. But researchers said the increase was not statistically significant.

The report is based on about 99 percent of the death records reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for 2005.

A final report will be released later, and the numbers may change a little. Last year, when releasing its preliminary death data for 2004, the government reported a 77.9 life expectancy. That figure later dropped to 77.8 in the final report.

As Americans live longer, they are also working longer.

The U.S. Census Bureau says almost a quarter of people 65 to 74 years of age now are still on the job or looking for one, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds.

Researchers also noted continued differences by race and sex. Life expectancy for whites in 2005 was 78.3, the same as it was in 2004. Black life expectancy rose from 73.1 in 2004 to 73.2 in 2005, but it was still nearly five years lower than the white figure.

Life expectancy for women continues to be five years longer than for men, the report also found.

The age-adjusted death rate for heart disease dropped from 217 deaths per 100,000 in 2004 to about 210 in 2005, and actual deaths dropped from about 652,500 to about 649,000. The stroke rate dropped from 50 per 100,000 to about 46.5, and the number of stroke deaths dropped from about 150,000 to 143,500.

But the count of cancer deaths rose from about 554,000 to about 559,000, according to the report.

And there were 5 percent increases in the rates for Alzheimer's disease, the No. 7 leading cause of death, and for Parkinson's disease, which was No. 14.

The United States continues to lag behind at least 40 other nations. Andorra, a tiny country in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, has the longest life expectancy, at 83.5 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Japan, Macau, San Marino and Singapore ranked second, third, fourth and fifth.
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