Last week, Jiroemon Kimura, the oldest man to have ever lived, died in hospital in Kyotango, Japan at the age of 116. The world’s next oldest living person, a woman named Misao Okawa, is also Japanese. These supercentenarians, as well as a number of other Japanese who lived into their hundreds, have contributed to Japan’s life expectancy being one of the highest in the world. This week’s map visualizes how life expectancy varies around the world, and proposes some hypothetical reasons for the patterns that appear.
Looking at the world, it’s pretty astounding to see how different classes of life expectancy line up with continental boundaries. Not surprisingly, the longest-living people live in the most developed countries, mostly seen in western Europe, North America, eastern Asia and Australia, where a good chunk of the population lives beyond 80 years old. Luckily for these older residents, most of these countries have fairly strong healthcare and old age security programs that help take care of elders in their later years – these supports are likely major contributors to the longevity of seniors in these nations.
On the other side of the coin, atrociously low life expectancy rates are seen in sub-Saharan Africa, where (among other things) a lack of access to potable water, maternal health programs, and safety from the violent aftershocks of colonial wars have reduced people’s lives to under half a century. The only country outside of Africa where such short lives are measured is Afghanistan, where over a decade of NATO military interventions and an enduring history of conflict have seen many civilians killed long before their time.
Given that China and India have emerged as economic powers in the 21st century, it is worth noting that life expectancy has a ways to go in these countries. The expectancy in China is 73.49 while India is quite low at 65.48 – presumably we’ll see both of these values increase in the coming years as these two nations continue their ascent.
In shifting our gaze to the Americas, we Canadians can puff out our chests due to our average life expectancy of 80.93 years, the highest in this part of the world. Our NAFTA neighbours of America and Mexico have expectancies of 78.64 and 76.89 respectively. Given there is a correlation between countries with progressive healthcare policies and higher life expectancies, let’s hope Canadian socialized medicine doesn’t disappear anytime soon.