What is life expectancy?
Life expectancy is the age a person can expect to live based on the statistical average for an area. It varies by location and by era. For example, in the Bronze age, you could expect to live to 26 years. However, things have changed significantly since then. According to the World Health Organisation, 72.0 years was the average life expectancy at birth of the global population in 2016.
Life expectancy is an indicator of a country’s level of economic development. From this figure, it is possible to draw conclusions about a state such as its standard of living. As a general rule the higher the life expectancy, the more economically developed a country is.
The map below shows life expectancy for a range of countries over time. By moving the slider below the map, the visualisation shows the dramatic increase in how long people can expect to live. For the UK, the country for which we have the longest time-series, there was no trend for life expectancy before the 19th Century. This is because life expectancy fluctuated between 30 and 40 years.
Over the last 200 years, people in all countries in the world achieved impressive progress in health that has led to increases in life expectancy. For example, in the UK, life expectancy doubled and is now higher than 80 years.
The map for 2015 shows that there are still huge differences between countries. For example, people living in Sub-Saharan countries have a life expectancy of less than 50 years. In contrast, Japan has a life expectancy of greater than 80. The reason for this is because Japan is more economically developed, with better healthcare, access to clean water and food along with sanitation.
The graph below shows changes in life expectancy by world region.
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