Life expectancy in the USA hits a record high

Larry Copeland
Life expectancy reaches all-time high in the US
Life expectancy reaches all-time high in the US

Good news, America: We're living longer!

Life expectancy in the USA rose in 2012 to 78.8 years – a record high.

Read MoreMarried? You mayneed a lot more for retirement

That was an increase of 0.1 year from 2011 when it was 78.7 years, according to a new report on mortality in the USA from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

Huntstock | Getty Images

The news is a little better for women, a little worse for men. Life expectancy for females is 81.2 years; for males, it's 76.4 years. That difference of 4.8 years is the same as in 2011.

More from USA Today:
Doctor: Strong lasers at NFL games are 'weapons'
Study: Why Apple Pay won't work
Geithner: Bailout needed to avert disaster

Those life expectancy estimates are for people born in 2012 and represent "the average number of years that a group of infants would live if the group was to experience throughout life the age-specific death rates present in the year of birth," the report says.

The average life expectancy for a person who was 65 years old in 2012 is 19.3 years – 20.5 years for women and 17.9 years for men. The difference in life expectancy at 65 years between males and females increased 0.1 year from 2.5 years in 2011 to 2.6 years in 2012.

Read MoreThe Alzheimer'sepidemic: Where we stand

It's not that a person born in 2012 is expected to have a shorter life span than a person who was 65 in 2012, says Jiaquan Xu, a medical doctor and lead author of the report. But the averages for people born in 2012 includes those who will be subject to infant mortality and teen mortality, which are higher than for a group of older people.

Student debt burdens seniors
Student debt burdens seniors

As far as the life expectancy difference between the sexes, Xu says it's not clear whether genetics plays a role, but behavior probably does. "Men usually take more risks, and they participate in risky outdoor activities like climbing and scuba diving," he says. "Also, teenage boys do more high-risk activities, and they get in more car wrecks, than girls."

Among other findings of the 2012 mortality report:

•The age-adjusted death rate for the USA decreased 1.1% from 2011 to 2012 to a record low of 732.8 per 100,000 population. The report attributes much of the recent improvement in both death rates and life expectancy to reductions in deaths from such major illnesses as heart disease, cancer and stroke.

"I think the health of the U.S. population is improving," Xu says. "The death rates for heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death that account for 46.5% of all deaths, have been falling since 1999."

Read MoreSeniorsseek roomies to survive

•The 10 leading causes of death in 2012 were the same as in 2011: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, unintentional injuries, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide. Those 10 causes accounted for 73.8% of all deaths in the USA.

However, from 2011 to 2012, age-adjusted death rates declined significantly for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death. The rate for suicide rose and the rate for unintentional injuries was unchanged.

•The infant mortality rate decreased 1.5% from 2011 to 2012 to a historic low of 597.8 infant deaths per 100,000 live births. The 10 leading causes of infant death, which accounted for 69.8% of all infant deaths, remained unchanged. They are: congenital malformations, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), maternal complications, unintentional injuries, cord and placental complications, bacterial sepsis of newborn, respiratory distress of newborn, diseases of the circulatory system and neonatal hemorrhage.

The infant mortality rate for SIDS decreased 12% from 48.3 infant deaths per 100,000 live births in 2011 to 42.5 in 2012; mortality rates for the other leading causes of death showed no significant change.

•Black males have the highest death rates, and black females have higher death rates than white females. Xu says African Americans have higher rates of heart disease than other races and have double the rate of hypertension as non-Hispanic whites; the rate of homicide, considered an unintentional injury, for blacks is 5.2 per 100,000 population, compared to 2.5 for non-Hispanic whites, he says.