Life Expectancy for Countries
The places where people live the longest
What Life Expectancy Means
Average Life expectancy is a measure of how long the average person lives in a given country. This is usually calculated by just averaging out the ages at which people die to get the mean value.
This is different from "the age before which 50% of the population dies," which would be the median value. This is also different from "the most common age at which people die" which would be the mode value. The median and mode values for life expectancy are usually higher than the mean value.
The big difference between the mean value and the others is that it's heavily affected by people dying young. People dying before their twenties skew the numbers much more than people living to 110. That means that countries with low life expectancies aren't necessarily places where people don't live long; they might just, unfortunately, be places where more people die early.
What affects high life expectancy
Low life expectancy might be largely driven by young deaths. But, high life expectancy is driven by a number of public health factors that different countries share in common.
Access to healthcare is a very big factor. Especially for older people, who are more prone to illness than young people, being able to see the doctor is very important. This means being able to afford the doctor's visit and being able to actually get to the doctor's office. This is sometimes tempered by higher prevalence of obesity in wealthier countries.
Another big factor in determining lifespan is family. Or community. Regular contact with loved ones is a huge plus in extending people's lives. If someone falls or has a health crisis, they're more likely to be found in time if they have people around them. And, perhaps a bit more sweetly, people just tend to have better health if they're socializing with people. Why this is true is up for debate, but lots of studies support the basic idea. One study from Johns Hopkins even argues that younger people who assist older people also see some health benefits.
And, in what might be the biggest placebo effect of them all, having a sense of purpose is a big plus. Having some goals and responsibilities drives a lot of people to live years longer than people who feel lost or unimportant. This might be a career goal or a hobby, or even taking care of a pet. The big thing is that, in countries with high life expectancy, their old people are more likely to feel engaged. This can be a cultural difference, or it can be geographical; old people are more likely to do things if they can physically get around.
Gender differences, or, why men have lower life expectancies
One thing that you'll see on this list is that women almost universally have higher life expectancies than men. According to the World Health Organization, there are a couple reasons for this, cultural and biological.
Biologically, women are less prone to certain cancers and heart diseases that cause a lot of deaths. And, newborn girls are more likely to reach their first birthday. There are also some biological factors that just haven't been properly explained or identified. (This isn't to say that women don't have their own medical problems, especially being misdiagnosed because of medical bias. But, these problems are less likely to be fatal).
Culturally, women are less prone to risky behaviors and are less likely to die in a violent conflict per capita. This includes all kinds of behavior, from smoking to drinking, and from picking fights to showing off via dangerous stunts. This might be why marriage has a positive effect on men's life expectancy, but no effect on women's; married men are less likely to do risky things than unmarried ones, while women are already less at risk regardless if they're married.
In a lot of developed countries this gap is actually shrinking. This might be because we're getting better at treating heart disease. Or, it might be because the push for gender equality has made it more acceptable for women to partake in risky behaviors like drinking. Or it might be both.
We've given you some of the highlights in the sidebar, but here are the full rankings from the UN Human Development Report for 2019. Of the top 10 countries for highest life expectancy, four were in Europe and four were in Asia. Israel was the only Middle Eastern country in the top 20; the next closest regional country was Lebanon at rank 35. The highest ranking country in North America is Canada, at rank 14. The next highest North American country is Costa Rica at 31, then the United States at 35. It's important to note that the life expectancy in Europe varies greatly between Western Europe and Eastern Europe; Estonia, which has a high expectancy for Eastern Europe, would rank quite low in Western Europe.
Of the lowest ranked countries, all of which are in Africa, only Lesotho has an HIV/AIDS rate above 10%. HIV/AIDS has become much less prevalent over the past decade. According to UNAIDS, the rate of new cases in Africa has declined 28% since 2010. The life expectancy in these countries is low due to poor access to healthcare, especially for children and mothers, and to some ongoing armed conflicts.
The Top 10 Highest
The Top 10 (well, 11) Lowest
|184||Central African Republic||52.8||55.0||50.6|
Small Nations and Territories
|Isle of Man||81.3||79.6||83.2|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||79.4||76.2||82.8|
|Northern Mariana Islands||75.4||73.4||77.8|
Life Expectancy by Country for Women and Men in 2020
|41||United Arab Emirates||77.8||79.2||77.1|
|46||Bosnia and Herzegovina||77.3||79.7||74.8|
|49||Antigua and Barbuda||76.9||78.0||75.7|
|54||People's Republic of China||76.7||79.1||74.5|
|80||Saint Kitts and Nevis||74.6||—||—|
|94||Trinidad and Tobago||73.4||76.1||70.8|
|103||St, Vincent and the Grenadines||72.4||75.0||70.2|
|124||Sao Tome and Principe||70.2||72.6||67.8|
|134||Federated States of Micronesia||67.8||69.5||66.1|
|150||Congo, Republic of||64.3||65.7||62.8|
|150||Papua New Guinea||64.3||65.6||63.0|
|171||Congo, Democratic Republic of the||60.4||61.9||58.9|
|184||Central African Republic||52.8||55.0||50.6|
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