Whether you’re in the Americas, Europe, Asia, or Africa, you’re likely to live longer than your ancestors, according to a new study. This is true for both the male and female population, according to a new study that studied patterns of mortality across the decades. And although females famously live longer than males in almost every country, this gap is starting to narrow.
For instance, the study predicts that the number of Americans aged 100 or older is expected to increase four times in the next 30 years. Currently, 78 percent of centenarians are women, but by 2054, this percentage is likely to go down by 10 percent.
“Therefore, the life expectancy gap between males and females is also narrowing. However, it should be noted that women maintain a longer life expectancy (and better longevity indicators) and, as the projections show, it is possible that this difference, even if it shortens, will be maintained in the future,” David Atance, one of the study authors and a professor at Alcalá University in Spain, told ZME Science.
The future of human life expectancy
Life expectancy indicates the average number of years a person in a particular population is expected to live. Since it is not affected by population size or age structure and is correlated with economic growth, life expectancy is often a reliable proxy to compare quality of life among countries.
It is considered a measure of population health, reflecting the cumulative social, economic, medical, and technological achievements of society, according to the study authors.
Atance and his team studied worldwide population data and projections between 1990 and 2030. They collected demographic data for 194 countries from the United Nations Populations Division (WPP) and then analyzed it using nine mortality and longevity indicators.
The analysis allowed them to cluster countries into five different groups. The group of countries with the best life expectancy at birth corresponds to Europe, North America, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand.
The group of countries with the second-best outcomes are from Asia and the Pacific Islands. The group with the third best outcomes are Latin and South American Countries.
Meanwhile, the fourth group corresponds mainly to African countries. It should be mentioned that cluster five corresponds to only one or two countries facing dire circumstances such as inter-state or civil wars.
“The results of the study show that the longevity/mortality indicators have grown during the period 1990-2020 (real data) and are expected to continue growing in the future (2020-2030) based on our projections. This fact appears among all the countries and both genders around the world,” Atance said.
Here are some of the key findings of the study:
- In 1990, the countries with the best outcomes had an average life expectancy at birth of 72.23 years for males and 77.17 for females.
- However, during the same period for the cluster (mainly Center and South African countries) with the worse results, the average life expectancy at birth was 44.91 for males and 50.09 for females.
- In 2010, the average life expectancy in countries from the first tier was 78.37 for males and 83.10 for females. In the same period, in countries in the last tier, the average value of life expectancy was 57.66 years for males and 61.10 years for females.
- Finally, in 2030, the researchers forecast the average life expectancy in the first tier could be 83.13 years for males and 86.54 years for females. For countries with the worst mortality indicators, the average life expectancy could reach 61.14 years for males and 62.82 years for females.
The study found Africa is emerging as the region with the most significant improvements in mortality indicators. It makes sense since the baseline is currently low. However, even the best-performing high-income countries continue to grow, although these improvements have slowed over time.
Limitations of the longevity analysis
The current study doesn’t draw a causal link between the many factors (such as improving access to healthcare) that could contribute to an increase in life expectancy across the globe. The analysis used data from the United Nations Populations Division (WPP), which may not reflect accurate trends at the global level for every country.
“The use of the WPP database allows us to have a global perspective but it is true that for some countries the data does not belong to the National Statistics Institute. Indeed, for African countries, the WPP uses estimations using close countries,” Atance told ZME Science.
Overall though, the bottom line is that people across the world are living longer, even in regions that historically have had very poor life expectancies. But is this necessarily a good thing considering a rising global population that puts strain on limited resources? When we asked this question to professor Atance, he replied:
“In my opinion, extending the life of the people is always good for society. However, it should be mentioned that this increase in life expectancy poses several social policy challenges that might require resource allocation and government planning.”
Whether our governments will be able to meet these challenges is yet to be seen.
The study is published in the journal PLOS One.
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