Longevity’s Up and Child Mortality is Down

To motivate people to save for retirement, I often quote statistics and recalled an article I came across more than a year ago in the Atlantic Monthly. In “What Happens When We All Live to 100?”, Gregg Easterbrook writes, “When the 20th century began, life expectancy at birth in America was 47 years; now newborns are expected to live 79 years. If about three months continue to be added with each passing year, by the middle of this century, American life expectancy at birth will be 88 years. By the end of the century, it will be 100 years.”

Interestingly, Easterbrook finds the single best yardstick for measuring a person’s likely longevity is education. He quotes John Rowe, a health-policy professor at Columbia University and a former CEO of Aetna, as saying, “If someone walked into my office and asked me to predict how long he would live, I would ask two things: What is your age, and how many years of education did you receive?”

Easterbrook also mentions Jay Olshansky’s research that suggests that American women with no high-school diploma have experienced relatively small life-span increases since the 1950s, while the life expectancy of highly educated women has soared since then. He writes, “Today the best-educated Americans live 10 to 14 years longer than the least educated, on average. The good news is that the share of the American population that is less educated is in gradual decline. The bad news is that lack of education seems even more lethal than it was in the past.”

As I contemplated living to 100, I was moved to research the other side of the increasing life line. And, I learned that child mortality (deaths of children under age 5) has fallen to under 1% in most developed nations. As reported by Max Roser in “Child Mortality,” published online at OurWorldInData.org, in Sweden, in 18th century, every third child died. In 19th century Germany, every second child died. With declining poverty and increasing knowledge and service in the health sector, globally child mortality has fallen from 18.2% in 1960 to 4.3% in 2015. This 4.3% is still high relative to the 1% for developed nations, but the improvement in developing nations has been dramatic. And the best news is that progress is ongoing. In fact, Roser says that in Sub-Saharan Africa, child mortality has fallen continuously for the last 50 years (1 in 4 children died in the early 60s; today less than 1 in 10 children die).

Clearly, the quality of life, from beginning to end, is improving around the globe. And that’s something to celebrate in our uncertain world.

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