Great News, Humanity: Global Life Expectancy Makes a Historic Increase

Photo: Bluestocking

The next time someone complains of how Things Were Just So Much Better In The Old Days, hit them with this fact: By the standard means of measuring progress — life expectancy — we, as a species, are doing better than ever.

And it’s getting better way faster than it has in decades.

Care of a new World Health Organization report, the global life expectancy increased by five whole years between 2000 and 2015, with the worldwide average now at over 71 years. It’s the fastest increase since the 1960s.

The biggest spike was in Africa, where the expectancy shot up by 9.4 years. Interventions like insecticide-treated bed nets — which have been shown to decrease the deaths of kids under age 5 by 20 percent — have contributed to gains.

While a dozen countries are now at life expectancies over 82 years (including Spain, Israel, Japan, and Australia), there are 22 under 60 years, all in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a release, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said that the best way to address the gaps is with “universal health coverage based on strong primary care.”

Another perplexing gap is between genders. All over the world, women live longer than men. Nordic countries have the smallest gaps (in Iceland it’s 3 years, in Sweden it’s 3.4), while former Soviet countries have some of the most extreme. In Ukraine men live 9.8 fewer years than women, and in Russia it’s a shocking 11.6 years.

The overall trend is that human health is on an upward trajectory. Like a lot of things, it doesn’t need to be made great again — it needs to keep going.

Global Life Expectancy Makes a Historic Increase