Research shows rise in global life expectancy by 2030

The study, led by scientists from Imperial College London in collaboration with the World Health Organization, analyzed long-term data on mortality and longevity trends to predict how life expectancy will change in 35 industrialized countries by 2030. Nations in the study included both high-income countries, such as the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Australia, and emerging economies such as Poland, Mexico, and the Czech Republic. The researchers chose countries in the study as they all had reliable data on deaths since at least 1985.

Posterior distribution of projected change in life expectancy at birth from 2010 to 2030.
Posterior distribution of projected change in life expectancy at birth from 2010 to 2030.
Credit: The Lancet.

The study, published in The Lancet and funded by the UK Medical Research Council, revealed all nations in the study can expect to see an increase in life expectancy by 2030. The results also found that South Koreans may have the highest life expectancy in the world in 2030. The UK’s average life expectancy at birth for women will be 85.3 years in 2030.

Professor Ezzati, lead researcher from the School of Public Health at Imperial explained that South Korea’s high life expectancy may be due to a number of factors including good nutrition in childhood, low blood pressure, low levels of smoking, good access to healthcare, and uptake of new medical knowledge and technologies.

French women and Swiss men were predicted to have the highest life expectancies at birth in Europe in 2030, with an average life expectancy of 88.6 years for French women and nearly 84 years for Swiss men.

The results also revealed that the USA is likely to have the lowest life expectancy at birth in 2030 among high-income countries. The nation’s average life expectancy at birth of men and women in 2030 (79.5 years and 83.3 years), will be similar to that of middle-income countries like Croatia and Mexico. The research team thinks this may be due to a number of factors including a lack of universal healthcare, as well as the highest child and maternal mortality rate, homicide rate and obesity among high-income countries.

Along with the US, other countries who may see only small increases in life expectancy by 2030 included Japan, Sweden, and Greece, while Macedonia and Serbia were projected to have the lowest life expectancies at birth for women and men respectively in 2030.

The UK’s average life expectancy at birth for women will be 85.3 years in 2030. This places them at 21st in the table of 35 countries. The average life expectancy of a UK man meanwhile will be 82.5 years in 2030. This places them at 14th in the table of 35 countries.

The research also suggested the gap in life expectancy between women and men is closing. Professor Ezzati explained: “Men traditionally had unhealthier lifestyles and so shorter life expectancies. They smoked and drank more, and had more road traffic accidents and homicides. However as lifestyles become more similar between men and women, so does their longevity.”

Professor Colin Mathers, co-author from the World Health Organization explained: “The increase in average life expectancy in high-income countries is due to the over-65s living longer than ever before. In middle-income countries, the number of premature deaths – i.e. people dying in their forties and fifties, will also decline by 2030.” The team developed a new method to predict longevity, similar to the methods used for weather forecasting, which takes into account numerous different models for forecasting mortality and life expectancy.

Life expectancy is calculated by assessing the age at which people die across the whole population. For instance, if a country has high childhood mortality rate, this will make average national life expectancy much lower, as would a country in which many young people die of injuries and violence. The team developed a new method to predict longevity, similar to the methods used for weather forecasting, which takes into account numerous different models for forecasting mortality and life expectancy. All the predictions in the study come with some uncertainty range.

Professor Ezzati added that these results suggest we need to be thinking carefully about the needs of an ageing population: “The fact that we will continue to live longer means we need to think about strengthening the health and social care systems to support an ageing population with multiple health needs. This is the opposite of what is being done in the era of austerity. We also need to think about whether current pension systems will support us, or if we need to consider working into later life.”

Citation: Kontis, Vasilis, James E Bennett, Colin D Mathers, Guangquan Li, Kyle Foreman, and Majid Ezzati. 2017. “Future Life Expectancy in 35 Industrialised Countries: Projections with a Bayesian Model Ensemble.” The Lancet, February. Elsevier.
doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)32381-9.
Research funding: UK Medical Research Council, US Environmental Protection Agency.
Adapted from press release by Imperial College London.