Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Three Score Years and Ten: Life Expectancy through the Ages

It's no secret that we're all getting older, and there are days when I feel truly ancient.  Bu, as they say, 60 is the new 40, and overal life expectancy in countries like Canada continue to rise.  In 1920 it was 59 for men and 61 for women, compared to 79 for men and 83 for women in 2009,

This compares favourablly with the expectations of, say, a Swedish baby born in 1800, according to a fascinating story in The New York Times magazine. Records show that he or she could expect to live only 32 years.  My kids (partly of Swedish descent, in fact, and now 33 and 37) might be considered old in that society.

The thing is that these expectancies are only averages, and when many deaths occur in infants and children, the average  plummets.  Those same Swedish records show that, once the perilous period of childhood was survived, an individual was likely to live into his or her 50s or 60s. The big advances in longevity come with the control of childhood diseases and safer childbearing practices. 

That should be no surprise too anyone who knows the Bible:  Psalm 90 sets 70 as a goodly age and 80 as an age that might be reached with "labour and sorrow."  Another suggestion that there isn't much new under the Sun.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,

You might be interested in the work of Dr. Hans Rosling who has integrated the official national statistical databases of countries into a fascinating tool. See: gapminder.org

He compares the increase in longevity and the wealth of nations over 200 years in this short video from the BBC. See: youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo

As a special bonus to your Swedish side Dr. Rosling is a professor of public health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.