Why was human life expectancy so high

Life expectancy : Mankind is aging - who lives the longest?

Never before have people gotten as old as they are now. It is true that there have always been individuals who reached a very old age - as is well known, the Bible reports on a Methuselah who is said to have been 969 years old. But until modern times most of them had no chance of reaching old age due to diseases, wars and child mortality. It has been different for a good century. On a global average, life expectancy has risen from around 30 to around 71 years since 1900 - an increase of three and a half years per decade. And there is no end in sight to this historically unprecedented development.

Women in Germany are already more than 83 years old

The Berlin Institute for Population and Development describes the rapidly increasing chance of getting older for more and more people in a detailed study. Japanese women are therefore the record holders. They come to an average of 87 years. In Germany, a newborn boy can currently count on 78.2 years. Girls come to 83.1 years. Ascending trend. In Wilhelminism, newborns in this country only had the prospect of turning 43.

The increase began later in the emerging and developing countries. But now Africa and Southeast Asia are growing the fastest. There is still a gap of 17 years between Africa and the rich regions. And the AIDS outbreak set countries like South Africa back ten years at times. But on the whole, they are now catching up on a development that took place in the industrialized countries 100 years earlier, writes author Sabine Sütterlin. Thanks to better nutrition and hygiene, clean drinking water and access to medical advances, once fatal infectious diseases are no longer terrifying. And hunger, natural disasters, wars and dangerous work also resulted in far fewer fatalities than decades ago.

Instead of epidemics and infections, there is a threat of affluence diseases

What long depressed life expectancy was child mortality. In Sweden it was even higher at the end of the 19th century than it is today in Angola - out of 1,000 children, more than 150 died in the first five years. In 2015, 5.9 million children worldwide did not experience their fifth birthday. But there are less than half as many as in 1990. In Germany there are currently four deaths for every 1,000 live births. Instead, the mortality rate of older age groups is being targeted. Increasing life expectancy in our part of the world depends above all on the fact that the lifespan of people who have already aged is extended.

According to the study, nine out of ten deaths in industrialized countries can be traced back to cancer and cardiovascular diseases. From a global perspective, circulatory disorders and strokes are the most common causes of death. Only in poorer countries do more people die from communicable diseases. Pneumonia, diarrhea, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria. And one in eight deaths is due to fine dust or toxic combustion residues. Open fireplaces are a major risk of death, especially in Southeast Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Life expectancy is 34 years between Japan and Sierra Leone

In a country comparison, the Japanese live the longest - an average of 83.7 years. Sierra Leone brings up the rear, the difference is 34 years. Japan is followed by Switzerland, Singapore, Spain, Australia, Italy and Israel. But there are also big differences in Europe. In some countries in southern and western Europe, people live to be older than 82.

In Germany, on average, they will be 81. In contrast, residents of the Russian Federation do not even experience their 70th birthday on average. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia have the lowest scores in Europe, they are on a par with Bangladesh or Guatemala. And in the US, the counties with the highest and lowest life expectancies are 20 years.

When looking for reasons, one thing immediately catches the eye: where more rich people live, you get older. This can also be demonstrated in this country in a less extreme way than in the USA. A study showed that people in the Starnberg district live on average a good eight years longer than in Pirmasens. And the Robert Koch Institute has calculated that men from disadvantaged backgrounds in Germany die ten years earlier than their peers from better-off families. Male newborns in the poorest category therefore live to 70.1 years, the wealthiest to 80.9 years. For women it is 76.9 and 85.3 years.

The health system plays an important role

In Eastern Europe, the consequences of the social upheaval after the end of the Soviet Union can be seen in life expectancy, says the managing director of the Berlin Institute, Reiner Klingholz. To this day, Russia has not returned to the level of the 1970s and 1980s. The high consumption of vodka and tobacco also contributes to the high mortality rate among men. More than every second death there is due to alcohol.

The role the system plays can be studied in the formerly divided Germany. Until the 1970s there were hardly any differences in life expectancy between the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR, says Klingholz. Then the West launched a “cardiovascular revolution”, cardiovascular diseases suddenly became easier to treat - and life expectancy drifted apart. Only after the fall of the Wall did the East Germans catch up again.

However, high health expenditure does not mean a long life expectancy per se. Americans do not get older on average than people in Cuba or Costa Rica - even though their country has the most expensive health system in the world. The USA spends 17.1 percent of its gross domestic product on this, reports Sütterlin. With Japan, the age record holder, it is 10.2 percent. However, only nine percent of medical expenses in the US are covered by insurance or government programs. Those who have to pay everything out of their own pocket go to the doctor and for preventive care less often.

The most important factors for a long life are high social status and education

Ultimately, life expectancy depends primarily on two factors: social status and education. Both are mutually dependent, they influence income and professional position, living situation, diet, risk behavior - all of these are very important factors for health and a long life. Take Russia as an example: men with the lowest level of education there die on average 13 years earlier than male academics. According to the study, people with a higher level of education are “more likely to have access to knowledge about which behaviors are beneficial to health”. And: You would be “more motivated to implement this knowledge preventively”.

This is exemplified by the change in smoking habits, says Sütterlin. Since the connection with respiratory and heart diseases, which was documented in the 1960s, smoking in this country “has predominantly developed into a characteristic of the poorly educated, low-income and socially disadvantaged”.

However, there is one exception: obesity. In contrast to the industrialized nations, where obesity mainly occurs in the lower classes, in poor countries the more highly educated tend to become obese. The world's highest proportion is found in the island states in the Pacific. Body fullness has even become a status symbol there, according to the study. The secondary diseases caused three quarters of all deaths there. In Kiribati, people die on average at 66 years of age - almost 16 years earlier than in New Zealand.

But the problem also exists in emerging markets. With urbanization and higher incomes, many are adopting Western dietary habits, eating more meat and processed products high in sugar and fat. From 1980 to 2015, the proportion of obese people doubled in more than 70 countries, writes a research team in the "New England Journal of Medicine". In the meantime, 2.2 billion people are overweight or even obese - this corresponds to around 30 percent of the world's population.

The price of longer life could also be more years of illness

In Germany, on the other hand, where 21 percent of the population is already over 64, prevention and physical activity are booming - at least among the more educated. “70 is the new 60” is a slogan used by geriatric researchers. There are currently more older people only in Italy (22 percent) and Japan (26 percent). But despite all efforts: The price for the additional lifetime could be more years of illness. The costs of longer life could also overwhelm the systems of rich countries.

And increasing life expectancy could have significant consequences for family structures, the world of work, and society. Are the pension systems up to the many elderly? Are new and sharper front lines to young people and their needs emerging? Do reforms and economic development fail because of the will to persevere of an increasing majority of the elderly?

As surveys show, most people are less concerned with the longest possible life than with health into old age, independence from others, freedom from pain. The question of how old we can get is no longer so interesting for demographic research, says Mikko Myrskylä, Director at the Max Planck Institute in Rostock. The essential question is rather: How will we spend the years of life that we gain?

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