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The discussion is:

In Module 2i a table labeled ”

Life Expectancy

Other than Birth

” shows life expectancy at various ages. Explain what this chart implies, especially in terms of future gains in life expectancy? What changes to health might most impact life expectancy in the future?

2i – Changes in Life Expectancy

Life Expectancy at Birth

Life expectancy has been on a fairly steady incline for the last 160 years. We have gained roughly 1 year of average life expectancy at birth every 4 years. In the United States, life expectancy has risen from 39.4 years in 1860, to 78.9 years in 2020.

Despite this overall increase, the life expectancy dropped three times since 1860; from 1865 to 1870 during the American Civil War, from 1915 to 1920 during the First World War and following Spanish Flu epidemic, and it has dropped again between 2015 and now. The reason for the most recent drop in life expectancy is not a result of any specific event, but has been attributed to negative societal trends, such as unbalanced diets and sedentary lifestyles, high medical costs, and increasing rates of suicide and drug use.

We see that before the 19th century there was no trend for increases in life expectancy which fluctuated between 30 and 40 years.

Over the last 160 years people in all countries in the world achieved impressive progress in health, especially with respect to child mortality, that lead to increases in life expectancy. From around 1875 to present, life expectancy has been a relative straight-line increase in western countries, almost doubling.

This simply indicates that the improvements gained in life expectancy from birth, largely reflects great improvements in infant mortality, as well as control of infectious diseases. Adult morbidity and mortality due to chronic disease has slowly increased over this same period. Because gains in child motility are at very low levels, it’s unlikely that life expectancy will continue to increase as in the past.

This literally means that a 20 year old in 1980 could be expected to live 13 years longer than a 20 year old in 1900. Likewise, an 80 year old in 1980 could expect to live only 2.5 years longer than an 80 year old in 1900.

Life Expectancy by Geographic Region

Gains in life expectancy worldwide in the last 20 years have been both positive and dramatic. However, there is still wide differences based on where in the world people reside.

In 2015, the average life expectancy at birth for Africa, where 16 per cent of the world’s population lived, was 61 years. The average life expectancies for the other five regions, where 84 per cent of world’s population lived, varied between 70 and 80 years.

Across regions, the highest life expectancy at birth was 80 years in North America, where 5 per cent of the world’s population lived, and 72 years in Asia, where 60 per cent of the world’s population live.

Life Expectancy Other Than Birth

Clearly, steady increases in life expectancy have been consistent over the last century. This stead increase has led some to conclude that life expectancy would continue to increase at the same rate on into the future. However, if you consider life expectancy increases at other ages a slightly different picture emerges.

The gains were largely with young ages. In other words, the average age has increased primarily because more people are surviving to adulthood. Someone 100 years-old today can expect to live less than a year longer than someone 100 years-old in 1900

Adult Life Expectancy Gains

Life Expectancy

at Age:

Gain in years

since 1900











Although on average life expectancy has gained considerably for 20 year-olds and younger, similar gains for older adults progressively decline. This means that someone 80 years-old today, could only expect to live 2.5 years longer than someone 80 years-old in 1900.

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