• Study

A Long Lifespan, but Not for All

How social divisions affect life expectancy

A long Lifespan, but not for all Open image in Lightbox

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Over the past century, life expectancy has grown steadily and seemingly inexorably. While an average person lived for 30 years around the year 1900, humans have now reached a mean life span of 71. Can this trend continue? Longevity-optimists are convinced that people living today may well age to 150. Yet in many developed countries, societies are divided into two groups: one consisting of people who grow very old, remaining fit and healthy for a long time; another consisting of less privileged individuals who are more likely to fall ill and die sooner. Health and life expectancy are essentially influenced by two factors: social status and the level of education. The study analyses the reasons for global differences in life expectancy. Society and politics are called upon to take action in order to compensate for health inequalities.

The Berlin Institute would like to thank the Nuremberg Institute for Market Decisions (formerly GfK Verein) for supporting this research project.

Focus Areas: Demographic change, International population policies
published: 9th August 2017

Selected Figures

56 million people died worldwide in 2015, more than a quarter of them from coronary problems or strokes. Of the ten leading causes of death worldwide, the majority could be avoided or postponed through a healthy lifestyle. © Berlin-Institut
In Germany, women and men of a higher socioeconomic status live much longer than comparative groups of middle or low status. This was revealed by a statistical evaluation based on the Federal Health Survey. The differences can be partly explained by the riskier behaviour of the lower status group. The authors write that if one omits smoking, obesity and lack of exercise from the equation, “the differences in mortality risk observed between the different status groups decrease by 28 percent for women and 24 percent for men”. © Berlin-Institut
Child stunting is a sign of long-term malnutrition or recurrent infections. It is often linked to delayed cognitive development. According to the World Health Organization, it is one of the main obstacles to human development. Although the world population has grown since 1990, there are fewer under-fives today who are too short for their age – but they continue to number well over 160 million. Over half of stunted children live in Asia and more than a third in Africa, where the absolute number continues to rise. At the same time, the number of under-fives who are overweight for their age is growing both in Africa and in other poor regions of the world. © Berlin-Institut


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