Life expectancy is a metric that measures the average age of death for a population. In today’s article, we will look at this metric from 1543 to 2021. This is definitely an important metric because it measures the health of the population. The values have definitely changed over the course of the 20th century due to the discovery of cures, the decrease in infant mortality, and new innovations. Top Countries by Life Expectancy – 1543/2019.
Life expectancy in the United Kingdom from 1543 to the present day
In this paragraph, before showing the data of the nations with the highest life expectancy, or the data at world level and by continent, it is interesting to show the data of the United Kingdom. In fact, the UK has life expectancy data from 1543 until 2019.
From 1543 until 1900 average life expectancy in Britain was broadly stable. On a trend basis there was a slight increase, but at the same time there were also many peaks and troughs over the years. In 1558 life expectancy, for example, had fallen to 22.4 years, a sharp decline on previous years. Similarly, in 1728 life expectancy had fallen again dramatically. From 1900 onwards, however, growth has been continuous and all in all steady. There was a sharp fall in 1918, the first world war, but this was quickly recovered in the following years. Today life expectancy in Britain is over 80 years, more than double that of 1543. Interestingly, however, the figures were broadly stable from 1500 until the late 1800s and then increased very rapidly.
Above is the animated graph, below is the “static” graph. The data before 1950 are not annual, but can be useful to understand the historical trend.
Global life expectancy: how has it changed?
After having analysed in detail the case of Great Britain, which is useful because the historical series is decidedly long, we now look at the data at world level. How has life expectancy changed over the last 250 years? Let’s start with the first piece of information. Worldwide, life expectancy in 1770 was less than 30 years. More precisely, according to the United Nations, the world average life expectancy was only 28.7 years. From 1770 to 1870, in 100 years, the figure increased by only 1 year, bringing life expectancy to 29.7 years in 1870. It is from 1900 onwards that the figures start to rise sharply.
For example, already in 1913, just before the start of the First World War, life expectancy had risen worldwide to around 34 years. In just 40 years, from 1870 to 1910, average life expectancy had thus increased by almost five times more than in the period from 1770 to 1870.
From 1950 onwards, a steady increase can be seen, slowed down only in a few years. Whereas in 1950 the average age at death was 45.7 years, in 2019 this figure is 72.6 years. A growth of almost 28 years in such a short period of history. Of course, the growth has not been equal year by year. This was strongest in the 1970s. But overall from 1770 to 2019 life expectancy can be said to have increased by +43.9 from 28.7 years to 72.6. A growth, in percentage terms of +153%.
Life expectancy by Continent from 1770 to 2019
If the worldwide figure from 1770 to 2019 grew by +153%, was this change homogeneous across all Continents? Let’s start first by showing the 2018 data. The first Continent by life expectancy is Oceania with 78.5 years followed by Europe, which has a similar figure with 78.4 years. America has a value of 76.7 years, Asia is about 5 years behind Oceania (73.4 years) and Africa closes with a life expectancy of 62.8 years. Africa’s value is definitely the lowest of the five continents. It can be said that, theoretically, a boy or girl born in Oceania or Europe lives on average 16 years longer than a boy or girl born in Africa.
If we look at the 1770 data, the difference between Africa and Oceania was smaller in absolute terms, 12.3 years. But in relative terms it was much greater. In fact people in Africa lived 26.4 years and in Oceania 34.7. In short, young Africans lived almost 1/3 less than a person in America or Oceania. Another interesting fact about 1770 is how close Asia and Africa were. In fact the average age of life was more or less similar. For Africa it was 26.4 years and for Asia 27.5 years. Average life expectancy in Asia increased from 1770 to 2019 by +168%. In Africa it rose by +139%. In absolute terms, the figure in Asia increased by +46.1 years and in Africa by +36.8 years. It is therefore true that, in general, average life expectancy on each continent has increased very strongly, both in absolute and percentage terms. But depending on the area, not all values are equal, on the contrary.
Top Countries by Life expectancy
Globally, which States/Territories have the highest life expectancy? Globally, the territory with the highest life expectancy in 2019 was Hong Kong. This autonomous territory of China had an average life expectancy of more than 85 years in 2019. This was followed by the second nation, Japan, with 84.36 years and in third place the autonomous region of Macau (China) with an average of 84.24 years. The first European country, which is in fourth place, is Switzerland with 83.7 years, followed by Singapore with 83.5 years. Next on the list besides Korea are many European countries such as Italy, with a value of 83.2 years, Sweden with almost 83, Norway with 82.91 etc. France closes the top 15 countries/territories with 82.58. Also in the top 15 are Australia, located in Oceania, and Israel with 82.8 years. So much for life expectancy in 2019. But what was the situation in 1960?
In 1960, the world’s leading nation, according to World Bank data, was Norway with an average life expectancy of 73.55 years for its population. Second place was Iceland with a similar 73.42 years, and in third place was the Netherlands with 73.39 years. In the top 15 there are two countries from Oceania: not only Australia but also New Zealand, which in 1960 had an average life expectancy of 71.24 years. Also in the top 15 was Canada, the only country from America, with 71.13 years. Finally, Ireland closed the Top 15 Countries by Life Expectancy list with 68.8 years.
Sources and useful links
I used several sources for this article. From the World Bank Database, data from 1960 onwards, to Our World In Data.
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