Dying Young in The United States: What’s Driving High Death Rates Among Americans Under Age 25 and What Can Be Done?

Young Americans face lower life expectancies and higher death rates than their peers in other affluent countries. (Population Bulletin vol. 76, no. 2)

Americans ages 15 to 24 are twice as likely to die as their peers in France, Germany, Japan, and other wealthy nations. While mortality rates for young people have been steadily declining in these nations, rates have remained stagnant or risen in the United States among every age group under 25. And the infant mortality rate is up to three times higher in the United States than in peer countries.

This PRB Population Bulletin provides a comprehensive look at deaths of Americans under age 25 before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, examining who is most at risk of early death and why.

Key Findings

Poverty, race and ethnicity, gender, parental education, family structure, and regional location are important factors in young Americans’ mortality risk, with those living in southern states facing a greater risk of early death. Injuries, suicides, and homicides are the leading causes of death among children and young adults, while premature birth and congenital abnormalities are the top causes of infant mortality.

Although it is too early to fully assess the impact of COVID-19 on mortality patterns, the authors warn that growing rates of mental health and substance abuse issues among young Americans during the pandemic could contribute to rising death rates.

Recommendations to reverse these trends include:

  • Reducing child poverty through direct payments and expanded tax credits and funding for child care, preschool, housing, nutrition, and health care.
  • Addressing racial and ethnic barriers to improve access to quality health care and reproductive health programs.
  • Improving treatment for and prevention of mental illness and substance abuse, as well as enacting broad safety measures related to guns and gun ownership.

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