It was once assumed that there was an upper limit for the average age of life expectancy, but as medicine, public health, and science has improved, this has been pushed further and further up, and now some think that it may not even have a limit. In a study published in The Lancet, researchers have predicted that by 2030, the average life expectancy at birth for some people may pass even 90 years old.
“We repeatedly hear that improvements in human longevity are about to come to an end,” says Professor Majid Ezzati, from Imperial College London, in a statement. “Many people used to believe that 90 years is the upper limit for life expectancy, but this research suggests we will break the 90-year barrier. I don’t believe we’re anywhere near the upper limit of life expectancy – if there even is one.”
Looking at how life expectancy is expected to change over the next 23 years, the study looked at 35 industrial countries ranging from high income, such as the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, and Germany, to those emerging countries like Poland, Mexico, Chile, and Romania. The nations were selected based on the availability of high-quality data on citizens' mortality.
It seems that by 2030, South Koreans will have the highest life expectancy at birth in the world, with women living in the country expected to break the 90-year barrier first. This is thought to be due to factors such as good nutrition in childhood, low levels of smoking, access to healthcare, and also a willingness in the country to take up new medical knowledge. By 2030, men from South Korea will have a life expectancy of 84.1 years.
Interestingly, the researchers predict that among high-income countries, the United States will have the lowest life expectancy by 2030, comparable with other nations such as Croatia and Mexico, with men living to 79.5 and women 83.3 years old. This is thought to be due to a number of factors, including the lack of universal health care, the highest child and maternal mortality rate, homicide rate, and obesity rate among the wealthier countries.
“Men traditionally had unhealthier lifestyles, and so shorter life expectancies,” said Professor Ezzati. “They smoked and drank more, and had more road traffic accidents and homicides. However as lifestyles become more similar between men and women, so does their longevity.”
The continual raising of life expectancy among these countries is likely to cause significant problems. The researchers suggest that we should now be focusing on strengthening social and health care systems, rather than cutting them as is currently happening due to austerity, while the pension system should also be reviewed to see if it will be able to continue to support an aging population.