Life expectancy at birth reflects the overall mortality level of a population. It is the average period that a person may expect to live.
Significant factors in life expectancy include gender, genetics, hygiene, diet and exercise, access to quality healthcare, lifestyle and culture, and crime rates. Studies indicate that longevity is based on two major factors: genetics and lifestyle choices. Given this, countries around the world have varying life expectancies.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the current global life expectancy in 2016 was 72.0 years, 74.2 years for females and 69.8 years for males. The life expectancies by region ranged from 61.2 years in the WHO African Region to 77.5 years in the WHO European Region. Between 2000 and 2016, the average life expectancy increased by 5.5 years. The WHO African Region saw its largest increase in life expectancy during that period of 10.3 years as a result of improvements in child survival and expanded access to antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS.
Countries with the Highest Life Expectancies
1. Hong Kong
Hong Kong has the highest life expectancy in the world. The average life expectancy for females in Hong Kong is 87.8 years and 82 for males. After World War II, Hong Kong saw rapid economic development and has seen a steady increase in the life expectancy of its people. Hong Kong has some of the best youth involvement in education and employment, the lowest infant mortality rate in the world, and high-quality child health care. This is despite Hong Kong spending less than on both health and social care as a proportion of GDP than other countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom.
Japan has the second-highest life expectancy of 84.67 years. This is about 87.7 years for females and 81.5 years for males. According to a 2016 study, Japan’s high life expectancy is largely attributed to diet. The Japanese have diets with lots of fruits and vegetables, fresh meat and fish, and grain-based foods. Additionally, the Japanese government’s investment in public health over 50 years ago, which resulted in childhood vaccination programs and the introduction of universal health insurance, has also been credited for the high life expectancy. Japanese citizens also remain very active, even into their elderly years.
Macau, a Special Administrative Region of China, has the third-highest life expectancy of 84.396 years. Males born in Macau can expect to live for about 81.3 and women can expect to live for about 87.2 years. Macau’s high life expectancy is contributed to its clean environment and air, great education, easy access to health care, and strong economy.
The first European country on the list, Switzerland’s average life expectancy is 83.836 years. Women are expected to live about 85.6 years and men are expected to live about 81.9 years. The life expectancy in Switzerland is almost double what it was at the beginning of the 20th century. Some studies point to three main secrets of the country’s high life expectancy: wealth, a sense of well-being, and diet, which consists of lots of dairy products, including cheese.
Singapore has the fifth-highest life expectancy of 83.662 years. Unsurprisingly, women have a high life expectancy than men, as they are expected to live 85.8 years while men are expected to live 81.6 years. Singapore has very low infant mortality rates, road traffic mortality rates, and deaths related to air pollution. Additionally, Singapore has the lowest mortality rate for cardiovascular or chronic respiratory diseases as well as ones related to unsafe water or lack of hygiene.
Spain’s average life expectancy is 83.612 years, which is 86.3 years for women and 80.9 for men. Spain is known for its Mediterranean diet, which its people see as the main reason for such a high life expectancy. The diet, which is rich in healthy fats and includes plenty of vegetables and fish, is also linked to higher cognitive performance and a lower risk of dementia.
With the seventh-highest life expectancy of any country, Italians can expect to live 83.568 years on average. This is 85.6 years for women and 81.4 years for men. Italian life expectancy has seen small decreases in recent years, which has been attributed to about 8.4% of Italy’s population living in total poverty. The northern portion of the country, which is the most economically developed, has a life expectancy of about three years higher than the northern, poorer part of the country.
Women in Australia can expect to live an average of 85.4 years and men can expect to live 81.6 years. This averages out to a life expectancy of 83.496 years for Australia. This is the eighth-highest in the world. Between 1981 and 2003, life expectancy increased in Australia more rapidly than in other high-income countries, but increase more slowly than in most high-income countries since 2003. This is attributed to slower declines in disease-specific mortality, a higher prevalence of obesity, and less scope for further reducing smoking.
Iceland’s life expectancy is the tenth-highest in the world at 83.07. Once against, women are expected to live longer than men in Iceland, with an average life expectancy of 84.5 years vs. 81.6 years for men. One reason for Iceland’s high life expectancy is its diet, which consists of a lot of fish. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are linked to a longer life. Additionally, people have very athletic lifestyles and the country has low pollution.
Countries with the Lowest Life Expectancies
The countries with the lowest life expectancies are:
- Central African Republic (53.345 years)
- Chad (54.458 years)
- Lesotho (54.366 years)
- Nigeria (54.808 years)
- Sierra Leone (54.81 years)
- Somalia (57.5 years)
- Ivory Coast (57.844 years)
- South Sudan (57.948 years)
- Guinea Bissau (58.444 years)
- Equatorial Guinea (58.878 years)
Each of the ten countries with the lowest life expectancies in the world is located in Africa. As previously stated, the WHO African Region has seen the largest improvement in life expectancy, which increased by 10.3 years between 2000 and 2016. One of the reasons that African countries’ life expectancies were so low was because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Malaria was also an issue that greatly affected life expectancy. Treatment and medication for both HIV/AIDS and malaria have become more widely available since 2000 and will continue to improve health conditions across the continent, further increasing life expectancy in those countries.