Life Expectancy in Major Countries Falters Amidst Increase in Global Estimates
Mon, April 19, 2021

Life Expectancy in Major Countries Falters Amidst Increase in Global Estimates

Global life expectancy at birth has increased in recent decades, indicating the success of human development. The last three decades saw the rise of people living up to 65 years old or over / Photo by: Patrick Roque via Wikimedia Commons

 

Global life expectancy at birth has increased in recent decades, indicating the success of human development. The last three decades saw the rise of people living up to 65 years old or over. However, in spite of the development in increasing life expectancy around the world, countries like the US, the UK, and Australia are seeing declines in the life expectancy of their citizens.

 

Improved Life Expectancy Worldwide

The life expectancy of newborns worldwide has reached an unprecedented high of up to 73 years this year, according to the UN's World Mortality 2019 report. That's an impressive development from the average life expectancy back in 1990 of only 64.2 years—with countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa living only up to 60 years or below.

No country reached a life expectancy at birth above 80 years at the time. But now, the lowest life expectancy at birth is 61 years in sub-Saharan Africa followed by Oceania (67 years) except Australia and New Zealand, where life expectancy is at its highest of up to 83 years.

The average life expectancies for 86% of the global population vary from 70 to 83 years—eradicating the life expectancy of below 50 years, the UN report says. It adds that a higher percentage of surviving persons up to 65 years indicate significant progress in socioeconomic development and preventing premature deaths.

"In 2019, the percentage of persons surviving to 65 years reached 77% worldwide, up from 66% in 1990-1995," the report states. "This achievement mostly reflects progress in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Northern Africa and Western Asia," it adds.

However, there are still countries falling behind in this progress—specifically in the sub-Saharan Africa region where the annual decline for reducing mortality is slower than estimates show.

Declining Expectancies

In the latest report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), a baby girl born this year in the UK is likely to live until she is 90, instead of the age of 94 predicted in 2014. Children's chance of reaching 100 years old is also significantly cut, with only 20.8% of newborn boys and 26.1% of newborn girls expected to reach that age.

BBC reports that previous projections were too high and that improvement in increasing life expectancies is much smaller than initially believed as expectations slowed down since 2011.

Life expectancy at birth in the US is also slowing down over time. This, in spite of the increase of nearly 10 years from 69.9 years in 1959 to 78.9 years in 2016. Projections stagnated after 2010 and started reversing in 2014, according to CNN, adding that it dropped for three years straight, from 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017.

CNN notes the decrease occurring as other high-income countries continue to show a stable rise in life expectancy, and amidst the US pouring most of its budget on health care per capita compared to the rest of the world.

Over in Australia, the life expectancy growth rate is slowing down after 20 years of rapid increases. Researchers from the University of Melbourne found that life expectancy faltered in the Land Down Under since 2003, with males having increased projections of +2.3 years in 2015 and females +1.1 years.

Tim Adair, a co-author of the Melbourne study, said such decreases should concern public health policymakers.

"Our high global ranking with regard to life expectancy at birth is unlikely to be maintained unless new strategies for reducing mortality associated with specific behaviors are developed and deployed effectively," Adair explained in a statement.

In the latest report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), a baby girl born this year in the UK is likely to live until she is 90, instead of the age of 94 predicted in 2014 / Photo by: Andrés Nieto Porras via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Cause for the Declines

According to the ONS, there are debates about the causes of faltering improvements in life expectancies in the region. It adds that researchers have presented a number of factors at play, although "none of which can be singled out as being the most important with any certainty."

Dementia has become the leading cause of death in the UK, along with other long-term health problems and issues that affect life expectancy well before old age such as drug abuse.

Drug overdose is also seen as a factor of why American life expectancy has shortened. Obesity, suicide, hypertension, and alcohol-related problems are among the negative trends that drive declining life expectancies in the US.

CNN says there are public health initiatives that aim to address these issues, but it's unlikely that the negative trends would be eliminated soon as long as the underlying drivers remain.

Meanwhile, cardiovascular disease and cancer are deemed as the top causes of faltering life expectancies in Australia. Alan Lopez of the University of Melbourne said these health problems, along with the high prevalence of obesity, suggest that the country's "future life expectancy increases will be smaller than in other high-income countries."

The improvements in global life expectancy indicate the efficacy of current human developments. However, the slow-down of these improvements in some nations—even in high-income countries—shows that more needs to be done to ensure that no country is left behind on the progress.