Rising Life Expectancies Throughout the World (1960-2017)

Many factors come into play when we look at the average life expectancy for people born around the world. Not surprisingly, first-world countries with socialized medicine, a high level of technical innovation, and an overall healthy lifestyle fare way better than poorer countries that are constantly ravaged by war.

On the positive side, we have seen a rise in average life expectancy all over the world in the period spanning 1960-2017. Unfortunately, there is still a huge gap between the countries with the highest and lowest life expectancies. Which region of the world do you think has the longest life spans? What about the shortest? Read on to find out – you may be surprised.

In 1960, the longest lives were being lived in Norway, with an average lifespan of 74. The shortest lives took place in Mali, with a shockingly low average span of 28 years. Today, countries in Asia report the longest life spans, with the poorest African countries still providing the lowest.

Norway (74), Iceland (73), the Netherlands (73), Sweden (73), and Denmark (72) took the top five positions in 1960, with Mali (28), Yemen (30), Sierra Leone (32), South Sudan (32), and Gambia (32) at the bottom.

By 2017, Hong Kong was in the top spot with an average life expectancy of 85 years old, up from 67 years in 1960. In 2017, Japan, Macao, and Switzerland all came in at 84 years, with the remainder of the top 10 (Spain, Italy, Singapore, Luxembourg, South Korea, and Israel) reaching 83 years on average.

Meanwhile, the lowest life expectancy in 2017 was in the African Republic at 52 years old. Lesotho reported 53, with Chad, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria at 54.

Former reigning champion Norway had a life expectancy of 82.7 years in 2017, while Mali had risen from a bottom of 28 to 58.5 years.

Canada has typically stayed in the top ten during the span of time between 1960 and 2017 with numbers ranging from 71 to 82 years, but what of the United States?

Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the U.S. has never cracked the worldwide top ten in terms of life expectancy. In 1960, it was 69.8 years. By 2017, the number had risen to 78.6 years. That means the United States still trails Hong Kong by over six years and one of our closest allies, Canada, by almost 3 ½ years.

It is undeniably positive that humanity’s increasing understanding of disease, the need for clean water, and general hygiene, along with new developments in vaccines, medications, and nutrition, has pushed the worldwide average lifespan to its highest point to date.

However, there is still much to be done in terms of equalizing access to clean water and life-saving medications across the globe. And it is also important to realize that the average life span in each individual country rises and falls annually based on current events.

For example, the United States saw a decreased life expectancy for the second year in a row in 2018. Experts attribute this to a growing number of deaths from suicide and drug overdose.

It’s also interesting to note that in almost every country, the average life expectancy for women is at least a few years longer than that for men. This is thought to be due to men’s traditional participation in warfare as well as a prevailing cultural expectation that men perform more physical labor while eschewing regular medical care and suppressing their emotions.

Obviously there are hundreds of factors, both global and regional, that will play into the average lifespan of humans over the next century. Antibiotic resistance and climate change may be the largest health threats that loom over us today, but human innovation may yet push average lifespans even higher.