Life expectancy at birth reflects the overall mortality level of a population. It is the average number of years that a person may expect to live. Studies indicate that longevity is based on three major factors: genetics, gender, and lifestyle, which includes components such as hygiene, diet and exercise, culture, lifestyle choices (such as smoking and profession), access to quality healthcare, and even crime rates. Given country-to-country differences in many of these components, it is perhaps unsurprising that countries around the world have varying life expectancies.
According to the United Nations, the global life expectancy as of 2023 was 70.8 years for males and 76.0 years for females, for an average of 73.4 years. Life expectancies vary significantly by region as well as by country, and in 2023 ranged from a low of 57.7 years in Western Africa to a high of 82.7 years in Western Europe.
Overall, life expectancy is on the rise. Between 2000 and 2016, the average life expectancy increased by 5.5 years globally, highlighted by an increase of 10.3 years in parts of Africa. This was largely due to improvements in the survival of children aged 0-5 and expanded access to antiretroviral treatments for HIV/AIDS.
10 Countries with the Longest Life Expectancies (United Nations 2023):
|2||Hong Kong||85.83||Liechtenstein||83.16||Hong Kong||88.66|
10 Countries with the Shortest Life Expectancies (United Nations 2023):
|3||Lesotho||54.91||Central African Republic||53.38||Central African Republic||57.68|
|4||Central African Republic||55.48||Nigeria||53.50||Lesotho||57.82|
|5||South Sudan||56.51||Eswatini||53.97||South Sudan||57.97|
As a rule, the countries with the lowest life expectancies in the world tend to be located in Africa. However, the WHO African Region has seen a massive improvement in life expectancy in recent years, registering an increase of 10.3 years between 2000 and 2016. African countries often struggle with hunger and especially with disease. Many African countries were hit hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and malaria has been an issue for even longer. Even diseases that are largely unheard of in other parts of the world, such as measles, cholera, and monkeypox remain an active concern in some African countries.
Fortunately, treatments for both HIV and malaria have become more widely available since 2000, and are considered the main reason Africa's life expectancy increased by more than 10 years between 2000 and 2016. While the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on African lifespans, it too was brought largely under control by late 2022. The WHO expects that health treatments across the African continent will continue to improve, further increasing life expectancy in those countries.
Life expectancy versus healthy life expectancy (HALE)
In addition to general life expectancy, some sources track healthy life expectancy (HALE), a related metric with one crucial difference. The difference between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy is hinted at by their names. Life expectancy measures the average total years in a person's life, while healthy life expectancy tracks the number of years during which an average person would consider themselves healthy.
Because of this variation in meaning, healthy life expectancy tends to be notably shorter than life expectancy, as most individuals' overall health declines at least somewhat as they approach senescence. For instance, according to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy for residents of the United States was 78.5 years in 2019. However, healthy life expectancy in the United States during that same year was 66.1 years.
Profiles: Countries with the longest and shortest life expectancies
One of the smallest countries in the world, Monaco also has the UN's longest estimated life expectancy of any country as of 2023. Males in Monaco are expected to live an average of 85.17 years, and females are expected to live an even longer 88.99 years, for an overall average of 87.01 years.
Why do Monaco's people live so long? Experts attribute the country's extra-long lifespans to multiple factors. First is the Mediterranean diet, which is high in healthy seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Second is the country's top-notch (and state-funded) healthcare system, and third is the large percentage of residents with enough disposable income to afford healthy lifestyles and any additional wellness aids they may desire.
2. Hong Kong
Technically not a sovereign nation but a Special Administrative Region of China, the United Nations estimates that Hong Kong has the second-highest life expectancy in the world as of 2023. The average life expectancy in Hong Kong is 88.66 years for females and 83.00 for males. After World War II, Hong Kong underwent rapid economic development and has since seen a steady increase in the life expectancy of its people.
Hong Kong has world-class education and employment programs, the lowest infant mortality rate in the world, and high-quality child health care. Yet, Hong Kong spends less on both health and social care as a proportion of its GDP than many other countries, including the United States or the United Kingdom.
Macau, the second Special Administrative Region of China, has the third-highest life expectancy of 2023 at 85.51 years. Males born in Macau can expect to live for about 82.88 years and women can expect to live approximately 88.11 years. Macau’s high life expectancy is attributed to factors including its clean environment and air, great education, easy access to health care, and strong economy.
Japan has 2023's fourth-highest life expectancy at roughly 87.97 years for females and 81.91 years for males, for a total average lifespan of 84.95 years. 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 (very similar to the Mediterranean diet).
Additionally, the Japanese government invested heavily in public health more than 50 years ago, which resulted in robust 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.
Another tiny European country, the micronation Liechtenstein boasts an average life expectancy of 84.95 years—83.16 years for males and 86.23 for females. Quality of life is high in Liechtenstein, which is both a high-income country and also the least-visited country in Europe. More importantly for longevity, Liechtenstein is also one of several countries that offer free health care to residents.
Switzerland’s average life expectancy is 84.38 years. Women are expected to live about 86.05 years and men are expected to live about 82.63 years. The life expectancy in Switzerland is almost double what it was at the beginning of the 20th century.
Studies point to several possible secrets to Switzerland's high life expectancy, including active lifestyles, a sense of well-being and satisfaction, and a diet consisting of lots of dairy products including cheese and dark chocolate. Switzerland also spends a higher percentage of its GDP on healthcare than any other country in the European Union, and its people have a strong cultural appreciation for preventative health and healthy aging.
Singapore has the seventh-highest life expectancy in the world as of 2023, with an average lifespan of 82.13 years for males and 86.42 years for females, leading to a combined average of 84.27 years. Singapore has very low infant mortality rates, road traffic mortality rates, and deaths related to air pollution. Additionally, Singapore has a very low mortality rate for cardiovascular or chronic respiratory diseases as well as diseases related to unsafe water or lack of hygiene.
With the eighth-highest life expectancy of any country, Italians can expect to live 84.20 years on average. This is 86.13 years for women and 82.15 years for men. Italian life expectancy has seen small decreases in recent years, which has been attributed to roughly 8.4% of Italy’s population living in deep poverty. The northern portion of the country, which is the most economically developed, has a life expectancy of about three years higher than that of the northern, less wealthy part of the country.
9. Vatican City
The smallest country in Europe as well as the world, Vatican City is also unique in that its population is almost entirely made up of non-natives—Catholic clergymen, to be specific. Despite these unusual demographics, the population of Vatican City enjoys the ninth-longest life expectancy of any country in the world. Men in Vatican City in 2023 have an average life expectancy of 82.17 years, while females—who make up roughly 5% of the population—have a life expectancy of 86.03 years, which combine for a total life expectancy of 84.16 years.
10. South Korea
Rounding out 2023's top 10 countries with the longest life expectancy is another Asian country, South Korea, where men live an average of 80.83 years and women live an average of 87.23 years, for a combined life expectancy of 84.14 years.
South Korea's life expectancy may be the fastest-growing in the world. As recently as 1960, the average life expectancy in South Korea was roughly 52 years. However, a greater understanding of nutrition, improvements in food distribution, and better access to health and social care have enabled the country to make huge strides in terms of logevity. In fact, many experts expect South Koreans to enjoy the longest life expectancies in the world by 2030.