How long are you planning to live?
Our World in Data reports how life expectancy has increased rapidly since the Enlightenment.
They estimate that in a pre-modern, poor world, life expectancy was around 30 years in all regions of the world.
In the early 19th century, life expectancy started to increase in the early industrialized countries while it stayed low in the rest of the world.
This lead to a very high inequality in how health was distributed across the world.
Good health in the rich countries and persistently bad health in those countries that remained poor.
Over the last decades this global inequality decreased.
Countries that not long ago were suffering from bad health are catching up rapidly.
Since 1900 the global average life expectancy has more than doubled and is now approaching 70 years.
No country in the world has a lower life expectancy than the the countries with the highest life expectancy in 1800.
Rising life expectancy around the world
The visualization below shows the dramatic increase in life expectancy over the last few centuries.
Over the last 200 years people in all countries in the world achieved impressive progress in health that lead to increases in life expectancy.
In the UK, life expectancy doubled and is now higher than 80 years.
In Japan health started to improve later, but the country caught up quickly with the UK and surpassed it in the late 1960s.
In South Korea health started to improve later still and the country achieved even faster progress than the UK and Japan; by now life expectancy in South Korea has surpassed life expectancy in the UK.
The chart also shows how low life expectancy was in some countries in the past:
A century ago life expectancy in India and South Korea was as low as 23 years.
A century later, life expectancy in India has almost tripled and in South Korea it has almost quadrupled.
You can switch to the map view to compare life expectancy across countries.
This view shows that there are still huge differences between countries: people in Sub-Saharan countries have a life expectancy of less than 50 years, while in Japan it exceeds 80.
It is not only about child mortality – life expectancy by age
Yes, the decline of child mortality matters a lot for the increase of life expectancy.
But there is much more to it.
Before the onset of modernity life was short.
The gains in life expectancy since then were mostly due to changing mortality patterns at a young age: it was once common that every 3rd or even 2nd child died, but no longer.
Another important change is that health inequality decreased hugely.
For the entire world the following visualisation presents the estimates and UN-projections of the remaining expected life years for 10-year-olds.
The rise – best visible on the Map-view – shows that the increasing life expectancy is not only due to declining child mortality, but that mortality at higher ages also declined globally.
Life expectancy has improved globally
Life expectancy in each region of the world stayed fairly stable for most of history until the onset of the “health transition,” the period in which life expectancy began to increase.
The chart below shows that the health transition began at different times in different regions; Oceania began to see increases in life expectancy around 1870, while Africa didn’t begin to see increases until around 1920.
Global life expectancy and life expectancy by world region, 1770-2012
The interactive world map of life expectancy
The world map below shows the historical data that we have for life expectancy. Use the slider below the map to see the change over time.
Median age by country
The median age of a country’s population is an indicator of demographic makeup of the country and of its the population growth.
These maps show how the world population is aging;the median age is increasing around the world.
However, there are considerable differences between world regions – many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are much younger since both birth rates and mortality are higher.
World maps of the median age of the population
Source: Our World in Data
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