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A Long Lifespan, but Not for All

How social divisions affect life expectancy (2017)

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

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For about a century average life expectancy has grown steadily, in a steep and seemingly inexorable manner. While people were living an average of 30 years at around 1900, human kind has reached a mean life span of 71 years nowadays. Can this trend continue? Longevity-optimists are convinced that people living today may very well grow 150 years old. Yet, in many developed countries, societies are divided into two groups: one group consists of people reaching a very high age, remaining fit and healthy for a long time; another group is composed of less privileged people who are more likely to fall ill and die sooner. Health and life expectancy are essentially influenced by two factors: social status and educational level. The study shows how global differences in life expectancy come about. 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.

Themes: Demographic change, International population policies
published: 9th August 2017
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Selected Figures

leading causes of death worldwide
56 million people died worldwide in 2015, more than a quarter of them from coronary circulation problems or strokes. Of the ten leading causes of death worldwide, the majority could be avoided or postponed through a healthy lifestyle.© Berlin-Institut
estimated probability of survival in Germany
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 explained partly by the more risky behaviour of the lower status group with respect to health, the authors write: 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
Number of staunted under-fives and overweight under-fives
If children’s growth is stunted for their age, it is a sign of long-term malnutrition, recurrent infections or infestation by parasites and is often associated with retarded mental development. According to the World Health Organization, this 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 underdeveloped – but they continue to number well over 160 million. Over half of them live in Asia and more than a third in Africa, where the absolute number is still continuing 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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