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101 Facts About Ageing #5: Humans Are Living Longer, On Average, Than We Did 100 Years Ago

Posted on 4 July 2021

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American sociologist, politician, and diplomat once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. And we wholeheartedly agree. A shared set of facts is the first step to building a better world with longevity for all. In that spirit, we are creating a series that covers 101 indisputable facts about ageing, health and longevity.

Life expectancy is the average age to which and individual can expect to live. In 1850, life expectancy in the United States, Canada, Japan, and many European countries hovered around 40. Since then, life expectancies in societies that industrialised have increased almost linearly. In the last 100 years, global average life expectancy has doubled from somewhere around 35 years in 1920 to 72.6 years as of 2019. While there is still significant inequality of life expectancy between developed and poorer countries, the developing world is catching up – for example, life expectancy in Niger increased from 49.9 years to 62 years between 2000 and 2019.

Survival at a given age between years 1851 and 2011.

Many different factors have contributed to this rise in life expectancy. Between 1850 and 1950, there was a huge decrease in infant mortality: in 1851, 30% of children in England and Wales would not reach their 10th birthday. By 1951, that figure was less than 5%, and has continued to fall since. Better medical care, improved living conditions and sanitation, vaccination, improved income for the poorest and many other factors have contributed to this change.

In addition to the reduced infant mortality, there has been a steady increase in the number of people reaching old age. In 1851in England and Wales, only 47% of individuals survived until their 50th birthday (meaning if you lived to the age of 10, you had a roughly 67% chance of reaching age 50). In 2011, 97% of people reached age 50. This is because fewer people now die from infectious disease, violence, and other causes that being young does not necessarily protect against.

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