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Factors That Affect Life Expectancy: How Long the Average Person Lives, and Why?

By Adam Trainor July 02, 2019

Over the last few centuries, there has been a significant increase in life expectancy. According to one study, between 1480 and 1679, life expectancy for women aged 15 was about 48.2 years. An increase in life expectancy from this age was first observed in 1680 when life expectancy was increased to 56.6 years. Over the years, life expectancy continued to increase. From the age of birth, the average life expectancy for the American population was just over 50 in 1960. In 2017, however, data that was released suggesting an increase to over 72 years on average.

The primary reason why life expectancy is increasing is because of the advancements that have been made in the health care sciences.

As scientists discover new ways to treat diseases, cures are often found for illnesses that were once considered incurable. With a reduction in the number of children that die at a young age, a further increase in life expectancy is observed as well.

What does life expectancy depend on?

There is a number of different factors that can have an effect on a person’s life expectancy. Understanding these factors help to provide a background on how science is helping people live longer, as well as how certain elements can be taken advantage of in order to assist a single person, such as yourself, to possible increase their own life expectancy.

In this post, we examine some of the most important factors that seem to have a significant impact on life expectancy. While the data we will be analyzing in the post primarily focuses on larger populations, it is possible to utilize the information on an individual basis and take advantage of the knowledge.

What Are The Main Factors That Affect Your Life Expectancy?

When it comes to taking a look at the average life expectancy, it is important also to consider what affects these numbers.

An obvious increase in how long the average person is expected to live has been observed in the last centuries, with quite a significant improvement seen in just a few decades.

The rapid improvement in life expectancy that has been reported over a couple of decades correlates perfectly with the enhancements that have also been observed in terms of science, as well as technology.

Health care services have improved drastically. We are seeing new drugs and medical devices being developed almost on a daily basis. Diseases that were once considered un-treatable can now be treated. Conditions that used to kill millions of people are now better controlled. While there are some diseases that are still considered incurable, scientists have developed drugs that slow down the progression of such conditions.

Just one example would be the HIV virus. In the year 2000, there were 28.9 million individuals with the infection. Only 770,000 of these had access to treatment, however. In 2017, records showed that around 36.9 million people had been infected with HIV, and more than half of these are receiving treatment. The improvement in the availability of HIV treatment helps to prolong the lives of millions.

Let’s consider some of the most important topics that need to be discussed when looking at particular factors that seem to have the most impact on average life expectancy.

Demographics

As strange as it may seem, demographics seem to have one of the most important impacts on how long people live. Some countries show a much higher mortality rate than others.

There are certain countries where people live well into their 80s, while other countries have much lower life expectancy numbers.

On the lower side, we have countries like:

Countries with lowest life expectancy

On the flip side, there are some countries where life expectancy is decades more than the ones that fall at the bottom of the list. Let's consider a few of them:

Highest life expectancy

By looking at these statistics, it becomes obvious that there are certain factors that help people live longer in some countries. Hong Kong currently has the highest life expectancy. The average female will live for about 87 years from birth, with 81 years recorded for the average male citizen. Then we have Sierra Leone, Chad, and the Central African Republic, where the average person does not even make it until 55 years of age.

Socioeconomic Inequality

Both social and economic inequality exists in many countries throughout the world. This also seems to have a drastic role to play in the average life expectancy of people. In countries where socioeconomic inequality is not considered a significant issue, people usually gain access to higher levels of medical care. In turn, they get better treatment when they are sick or develop a disease.

Essentially, when talking about socioeconomic inequality, we are referring to the unequal distribution of wealth, as well as income, among the population.

To provide an example of what we mean, let’s take a look at the average income per person based on a few countries.

We start with the countries that are on the upper end of the income bracket:

Highest income countries

Now, let’s take a look at countries where people are not so privileged:

Lowest income countries

When we compare this data to the tables that were provided when we looked at life expectancy based on demographics, we see a clear link. While not all the data interlinks, we see that many of the countries on the higher end of the income bracket have a better life expectancy. On the other hand, the countries that seem to have a lower life expectancy are also those where people have significantly less income.

Access To Health Care Services

The reason why people are able to live longer is because of advancements in medical services. Medication can help to effectively reduce the effects that certain diseases may have in the human body.

The presence of a bacterial infection can be effectively fought off with a dose of antibiotics. When a fungal infection develops, antifungal medication is used. If a person is poisoned due to a snake bite, then there are drugs that can help to counteract the venom.

When a population is not able to gain access to these health care services, it becomes quite obvious that their life expectancy would be on the lower end. Without being treated for a bacterial infection with antibiotics, for example, a person would face a much higher risk of dying. Combined with a location where these infections are more prevalent, and you see why the life expectancy rate suddenly starts to drop.

While there are countries where gaining access to medical services, whether it is an emergency or not, is no problem at all, some countries lack this essential feature.

In Liberia, there are an estimated 14 physicians for every one million individuals. Niger, Sierra Leone, Chad, and many other countries also share the same low numbers of physicians.

 Countries with fewest doctors

Source: https://www.worldatlas.com/

Again, we see a trend that still continues here. Many of these countries are also the ones that are part of the lower end when looking at the income brackets of the population. We also see that the life expectancy in these countries are obviously lower, especially when we compare the data to countries where there are more physicians to provide medical services to the people who form part of the nation.

One recent report that was published by the World Health Organization explained that at least 50% of the global population currently experiences various limitations in terms of accessing health care services. Additionally, the same report claims that about 100 million people over the world are experiencing “extreme” poverty due to the costs involved in accessing medical care services.

The report goes on to explain that for around 800 million individuals, 10% or more of their budgets need to be allocated to medical expenses. While this is able to cover the medical costs for around 700 million of these people, the remaining 100 million are unable to continue to afford the high medical bills that come with essential health care services.

In fact, the study that was conducted by the World Health Organization found that many people who formed part of this 100 million had to survive on about $1.90 per day. This may not even be enough to provide a single meal for one person, let alone an entire household.

What Is The Next Step?

While we have observed a significant improvement in how long the average person lives over just a few decades, there are still a lot of gaps that need to be filled.

Sure, countries that have high-income brackets and ready access to medical services are seeing great improvements in the life expectancy of their population. At the same time, there are still many locations where the average life expectancy is much lower than the global average.

This brings up concerns about what is next.

It is now time to consider what needs to be done in order to reduce the significant gap between various countries, socioeconomic status, and other factors that are affecting the life expectancy of the population.

The initial steps that need to be taken would be for health care services to become more readily available in locations where there are currently limitations. Ensuring these people are able to gain access to the right treatment for diseases and even common illnesses can help to reduce the mortality rate and, in turn, give these people an increase in how long they should expect to live.

At the same time, opportunities need to be provided to those who reside in countries that are considered underprivileged. This is especially important when it comes to looking at increasing the number of educated physicians and specialists in such areas.

How does education affect life expectancy?

While there may be a large number of individuals with the talent and brains to become successful medical experts in these underprivileged areas, without being provided an opportunity to take on such a career, the number of physicians in the region is unlikely to occur.

Conclusion

While life expectancy has increased in general over the last few centuries, there are still some populations that have a lower lifespan compared to others.

Understanding the main points that have an impact on how long a person is expected to live is critical.

This type of information can assist with the development of highly effective strategies that can help underprivileged populations gain access to the services and products, as well as strategies that may be required to help prolong their life.

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2625386/

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/sp.dyn.le00.in

https://www.avert.org/global-hiv-and-aids-statistics

http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/life-expectancy/

https://www.worlddata.info/average-income.php

https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-countries-with-the-fewest-doctors-in-the-world.html

https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/13-12-2017-world-bank-and-who-half-the-world-lacks-access-to-essential-health-services-100-million-still-pushed-into-extreme-poverty-because-of-health-expenses


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