Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is defined as the average number of years a person is expected to live. That said, not only are there vast differences in life expectancies around the world but there is also a difference between men and women. Various factors contribute to these differences, read on to find out more!

Life Expectancy Life Expectancy

Create learning materials about Life Expectancy with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    Life expectancy

    Life expectancy has doubled globally. While life expectancy can give an average number of years a person is expected to live, it is a hypothetical measure because future projections and assumptions are often considered when creating the statistics.

    In general, women are expected to live longer than men.

    It is worth noting that there are no specific guidelines as to what constitutes a good life expectancy. There is no line that states that below this line is bad and above it is good. That being said, countries that score badly, for example, on environmental quality (see below), tend to have a worse score when it comes to life expectancy.

    Life expectancy definition

    The term 'life expectancy' refers to the average number of years a person is expected to live.

    This is based on several factors such as year of birth, current age, sex, and demographic location.

    Your life expectancy is very dependent on demographic conditions, which is why you often see people in less developed countries have a lower life expectancy than those living in more developed countries.

    Things that can (drastically) reduce your life expectancy include the prevalence of infectious diseases, poor health care, and lack of access to a clean water supply.

    Life expectancy (figure 1) is not to be confused with lifespan. The latter is the maximum amount of years that any species can live. At the moment, the lifespan of humans is over 120 years.

    Life expectancy at birth (LEB)

    LEB is defined as an average of how long a newborn can expect to live, providing that the current death rates do not change. LEB is one of the most used health indicators.

    While the LEB indicates the average number of years a newborn can expect to live, it is not set in stone. It is just an indicator and, as mentioned earlier, heavily dependent on specific factors. When a person has access to better health care, they can live past the life expectancy given at birth.

    While this sounds simple enough, it is different in practice. One crucial distinction is the difference between cohort life expectancy and period life expectancy.

    The image below (figure 1) shows the global life expectancy at birth.

    Life Expectancy, Global life expectancy at birth 2019, StudySmarterFigure 1: Global life expectancy at birth 2019, Fnweirkmnwperojvnu/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

    Cohort life expectancy

    Before explaining what this means, you must know what the term cohort means in this context.

    A cohort is a group of individuals born in a given year.

    The cohort life expectancy is the average life length of a particular cohort. This life expectancy is calculated by observing a combination of mortality rates for the past years and future projections for the specific cohort in the coming years. Just remember that these are projections, not forecasts. Future changes could mean that the cohort life expectancy will change for better or worse.

    Period life expectancy

    Period life expectancy looks at things from a different perspective. It looks at mortality rates from a single year or a group of years and assumes that those rates apply throughout the remainder of a person's life. That means that any future changes in mortality rate are not taken into account.

    Considering that this life expectancy does not consider future projections, it can give a more objective view. It is, therefore, used more often than the cohort life expectancy. That being said, period life expectancies tend to be lower for the same reason, because they do not consider any future projections and assumptions.

    Health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE)

    HALE is the average number of years a person is expected to live in good health. That means that this person has not suffered from disabling illness or injuries. This measurement is used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess the health and well-being of a country.

    HALE considers the years a person lived in less-than-full health due to a disease or injury.

    The table below shows the HALE at birth by global region for 2019.

    RegionBoth sexesMenWomen
    Global63.762.564.9
    Americas66.264.867.5
    Europe68.366.670.0
    Western Pacific68.667.070.2
    Eastern Mediterranean60.460.260.7
    Southeast Asia61.561.161.9
    Africa56.055.057.1

    Environmental risks

    The environment directly affects health status and plays a significant role in the quality of life, years of healthy life lived, and health disparities. Therefore, this ties in with HALE.

    Poor air quality, caused by pollution, is one example linked to premature death, cancer, and long-term damage to someone's respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study showing that nearly 1 in 4 deaths are linked to unhealthy environments1.

    The WHO states that cancers are the leading cause of death worldwide, with around 19% of those cancers being attributed to environmental factors.

    Respiratory systems = a network of organs and tissues that help you breathe. It consists of your airways, lungs, lung muscles, and blood vessels.

    Cardiovascular systems = the system that is responsible for pumping blood through your body. It consists of your heart, arteries (carry blood away from the heart), veins (bring blood back to the heart), and capillaries (tiny vessels that branch off from arteries to deliver blood to your body tissues)

    Environmental quality survey template

    Surveys are conducted to assess how people feel about environmental and local issues. There are 3 reasons such surveys are used:

    1. To evaluate people's perception of environmental degradation
    2. Data is collected to evaluate the common factors causing environmental degradation
    3. Evaluate the purchase behaviour of people, for example, do they purchase the more expensive, environmental-friendly products

    There are many different templates for such surveys, below is an example of an environmental quality survey.

    SubjectPositives12345Negatives
    BuildingsBuildings are well looked afterBuildings look derelict and uncared for
    PavementsGood qualityDamaged
    GraffitiNo evidence of graffitiA lot of graffiti
    LitterNothing on the floorA lot on the floor
    Green spacesA lot of green spaces (trees, grass, and other vegetationNo vegetation
    BoundariesGood quality of boundaries. E.g. walls and fences(Severely) damaged boundaries
    Trafficlittle to none in the areaLarge volumes of roads are congested
    PollutionLittle to no pollutionHighly industrialised with high levels of pollution
    Street furnitureHigh quality. E.g. street lighting, litter bins, and road signsDerelict or no street furniture
    TOTAL

    Life expectancy countries

    Every country has a different life expectancy; the map below (figure 2) shows the life expectancy at birth in the different countries, based on the statistics known for 2019.

    Life Expectancy, Map of life expectancy around the world in 2019, StudySmarterFigure 2: Map of life expectancy around the world in 2019 - Our World In Data (2005)

    It is worth remembering that the map shows average life expectancy for both sexes, not separately.

    Average life expectancy - meaning

    The average life expectancy means that it looks at an average of the numbers. This can be an average between men and women, an average of all the countries in the world or a region, or a combination.

    The life expectancy of men in 2020

    As mentioned earlier, men have a lower life expectancy than women on average. The table below (table 1) shows you the different global average life expectancies, based on the statistics from 2020.

    Both sexesFemaleMale
    73.2 years75.6 years70.8 years

    Table 1

    The following table (table 2) shows the average life expectancy for the UK in 2020.

    Both sexesFemaleMale
    81.8 years83.3 years80.2 years

    Table 2

    Life expectancy rising

    The average life expectancy is rising on a global scale, with people now living, on average, twice as long as opposed to the early 19th century. One of the most important increases in this life expectancy is the decline in child mortality.

    The maps below (figure 3) show the world's life expectancy in 1800, 1950, and 2015, showing a clear rise in life expectancy.

    Life Expectancy, Health and Human Rights map showing life expectancy in 1800, 1950, and 2015, StudySmarterFigure 3: Map showing life expectancy in 1800, 1950, and 2015 - Our World In Data (2005)

    What is apparent when looking at the maps is that, in general, the increase is less and less steep in less-developed countries, such as several countries in Africa. This shows there is still a lot of inequality.

    Reasons for the poor life expectancy in the 1800s include high child mortality. Children and young adults died mainly due to poor health measures, such as effective medicines to fight infectious diseases. Poor health measures, infectious diseases, local conflicts, and poor infrastructure such as water supplies are still the main reasons for the lower life expectancy in certain countries.

    The maps below (figures 4 and 5) show the population expected to survive to the age of 69 (as of 2019).

    Life Expectancy, Health and Human Rights map showing the share of men expected to survive to the age of 65, StudySmarterFigure 4: Map showing the share of men expected to survive to the age of 65 - Our World In Data (2021)

    Life Expectancy, Health and Human Rights map showing the share of women expected to survive to the age of 65, StudySmarterFigure 5: Map showing the share of women expected to survive to the age of 65 - Our World in Data (2021)

    These maps show you that more women are expected to survive to the age of 65, compared to men. As data has shown throughout the decades, women generally tend to live longer than men.

    Calculating life expectancy

    Life tables that present age-specific mortality rates are used to calculate life expectancy. The life expectancy tables are calculated based on death probabilities according to Farr's death rate method:

    qx = Mx / (Bx + (Mx/2))

    • Mx = number of deaths at the age of x to under x+1 years in the reported period.
    • Bx = average population aged x to under x+1 in the base period
    • qx = death probability from age x to x+1

    As mentioned earlier, life expectancy is not a set statistic. It can change for several reasons, for better or for worse. The calculator and the outcomes it generates are averages.

    There are also plenty of life expectancy calculators online that you can use; however, they are less accurate as they do not consider some important aspects that attribute to a higher or lower life expectancy.

    Life Expectancy - Key takeaways

    • The term 'life expectancy' refers to the average number of years a person is expected to live. This is based on several factors such as year of birth, current age, sex, and demographic location.
    • Life expectancy at birth (LEB) is defined as an average of how long a newborn can expect to live, providing that the current death rates do not change. LEB is one of the most used health indicators. Your LEB is not definitive, and it can be improved.
    • Health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) is the average number of years a person is expected to live in good health. That means the years that the person is not suffering from disabling illness or injuries.
    • The environment directly affects health status and plays a considerable role in the quality of life, years of healthy life lived, and health disparities.
    • Women tend to have a longer life expectancy than men.
    • Life expectancy is on the rise. This is for all countries, although there are significant differences in the increase between countries. Especially less-developed countries still have a low(er) life expectancy.
    • Life expectancy is calculated as follows: qx = Mx / (Bx + (Mx/2))

    References and figures:

    1. WHO: Preventing disease through healthy environments. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241565196

    Figure 2: Data from Riley, J.C. (2005) Life expectancy 2019 via Our World in Data.

    Figure 3: Data from Riley J.C. (2005) Life expectancy 2019 via Our World in Data.

    Figure 4: Data from World Bank (2021) World Population Prospects - UN Population Division (2019) via Our World in Data.

    Figure 5: Data from World Bank (2021) World Population Prospects - UN Population Division (2019) via Our World in Data.

    Life Expectancy Life Expectancy
    Learn with 20 Life Expectancy flashcards in the free StudySmarter app

    We have 14,000 flashcards about Dynamic Landscapes.

    Sign up with Email

    Already have an account? Log in

    Frequently Asked Questions about Life Expectancy

    What is today's life expectancy?

    The global life expectancy (for 2020) is:

    • both sexes: 73.2 years
    • Women: 75.6 years
    • Men: 70.8 years

    What's the average age for a man to die?

    Globally speaking, with statistics from 2020, it is 70.8 years.

    What is the life expectancy of a male in 2020?

    70.8 years

    What is a good life expectancy?

    There are no specific guidelines as to what constitutes as a good life expectancy, there is no line that states, "below this line is bad, above it is good." That being said, countries that don't score well, for example on the environmental quality (see below) tend to have a worse score.  

    How is life expectancy calculated?

    qx = Mx / (Bx + (Mx/2))

    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Life Expectancy Teachers

    • 11 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App