While Washington gets a lot of attention for being a millennial magnet, it’s also a great place to grow old, according to a new study from Senior Living, which found that our state has the eighth-highest life expectancy in the nation. Washington residents can expect to live an average of 80.2 years, according to the study.

Life expectancy nationwide has declined for the past three years, inching down from 78.8 years to 78.6, according to the study based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Until recently, the average American life expectancy had been increasing for decades, according to the study, which noted that such a consistent decline in nationwide life expectancy hasn’t been seen since the three years between 1915 and 1918.

Factors affecting life expectancy vary somewhat from state to state, the study found. For example, although Washington has seen a 32.6% increase in alcohol-related liver disease, it benefits from one of the lowest levels of heart disease in the country.

Nationwide, cancer and heart disease remain the two most common causes of death. Meanwhile, suicides, drug overdoses and liver disease connected to alcoholism have skyrocketed, according to the study.

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Among the key findings related to common causes of death:

  • Heart disease: Washington ranks No. 43, with 138.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Oklahoma had the most heart-related deaths with 237.2 per 100,000. Minnesota had the fewest with 119.1 per 100,000.
  • Cancer: Washington ranks No. 35, with 148.4 deaths per 100,000 people. Kentucky had the most cancer deaths with 185.7 per 100,000. Utah had the fewest with 120.3 per 100,000.
  • Suicide: Washington ranks No. 22, with 16.9 suicides per 100,000 people. Montana had the most suicides with 28.9 per 100,000. New York had the fewest with 8.1 per 100,000. Nationwide, more than 47,000 people died by suicide in 2017, according to CDC data, making it the 10th most common cause of death in the country.
  • Drug overdoses: Washington ranks No. 35, with 15.2 drug overdoses per 100,000 people. West Virginia had the most drug overdoses, with 57.8 per 100,000 people. Nebraska had the fewest, with 8.1 per 100,000.
  • Liver disease: Washington ranks No. 20, with 11.4 liver-related deaths per 100,000. That’s a 32.6 percent increase over previous years, according to the CDC. New Mexico had the most liver-related deaths with 26.8 per 100,000 people. Maryland had the fewest with 6.6 per 100,000.

Overall, residents of Hawaii have the longest life expectancy at birth: 81.3 years. Mississippi’s 74.7-year life expectancy is the nation’s lowest. The nine states with the lowest life-expectancy figures are all in the South, the study found.


Life expectancy can also vary quite a bit within a state. A 2017 University of Washington study of life-expectancy figures found significant disparities across Washington’s counties. The gaps correlated with factors such as a county’s obesity and smoking rates, racial demographics, average income and level of access to quality health care.

For example, King County residents have a lower death rate for all cancers than people in neighboring Pierce and Snohomish counties, and people in some southwestern Washington counties die from cancer at higher rates than the state and national averages, according to a separate 2017 analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nationwide, mortality rates and life expectancy vary across race and sex. Overall, women in the United States tend to live longer than men, according to the CDC. Death rates are highest among non-Hispanic black men and non-Hispanic white men, and lowest among Hispanic women, Hispanic men and white women, according to 2017 data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“Differences in life expectancy by race have persisted at least since official estimates were recorded,” according to a 2015 data brief from the NCHS that noted the gap in life expectancy between black and white Americans narrowed from 5.9 years in 1999 to 3.6 years in 2013. The gap shrank in part because black people were dying of heart disease, cancer and HIV at lower rates.

Information from The Seattle Times’ archives is included in this report.