Rich and Poor Countries Experience Sharp Declines in Life Expectancy

Life Expectancy Decline Since 1950

Human life expectancy gains have plummeted dramatically in the global context since the 1950’s, according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

These new findings are contradictory to some notion that life expectancy has increased amid the breakthroughs in technology and medicine.

According to the study, this slowdown trend does not exempt any countries in the world. In fact, this is true for both rich and poor countries. However, declines in lifespan is worst among already low-lifespan countries.

This new discovery is confirmed by David Bishai, PhD, professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health.

Bishai said, “This is not about us hitting the ceiling; the slowdown has been sharpest in countries that have the most life expectancy to gain.”

The study was also co authored by Carolina Cardona, a PhD student at the Bloomberg School.

couple shares affection - life expectancy.
Old couple share affection.

The Slower Gains

To calculate the life expectancy gains, the researchers examined data for 139 countries and for each one calculated the “decadal” life expectancy gain – the gain from a given year to a decade later – during the period 1950-2009. Based on the analysis, the researchers for the total sample, the mean decadal gain started at an impressive 9.7 years during the 1950s but fell more or less steadily to just 1.9 years during the 2000s.

In addition, the researchers stratified the countries in the sample by their life expectancies, and found that the highest lifespan countries, with life expectancies at birth of at least 71 years, declined from a mean decadal gain of 4.8 years in the 1950s to 2.4 years in 2000-2010.

Aside from that, the researchers found an even steeper decline in countries in the lowest stratum of lifespan, with life expectancies under 51 years. For countries in this category, the mean decadal change in life expectancy dropped continuously from a promising gain of 7.4 years in the 1950s to a worrisome loss of 6.8 years in the 2000s. This means the low-lifespan countries on average went from experiencing big gains to sharp declines in life expectancy.

The Important Factor: Governance May Contribute to Overall Down Trend

The study shows that progress in health technology since 1950 has not been enough to keep longevity increasing at its historic rates in populations. The AIDS pandemic that hit hardest in low-lifespan countries is ruled as one factor contributing factor but doesn’t fully explain it.

However, the researchers suspect that an important driver of the overall trend is a widespread failure of governance.

Bishai explains, “Nowadays, the countries with persistently low life expectancy are countries that generally are fragile states-some are not even trying to increase their life expectancy.”

This means that innovative and new health technologies are not enough to address the problems in public health. The researchers stressed political will is crucial to make significant progress in increasing human life expectancy.

Bishai said, “We need also to promote political will and social consensus for public health measures in the countries that need it most. If the national government is underperforming, public health can act on political will in districts and villages. We used to be good at this and if we can get it back then I think we can again see the kinds of improvements we were seeing in the 1950s.”

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.