Life Expectancy and Disparity

James W. Vaupel, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Alyson A. van Raalte, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Alongside historic gains in life expectancy, the equalizing of life chances has fundamentally improved the human condition. Remarkably, during the past 167 years from 1840 to 2006, 106 record holders of life expectancy have been the countries enjoying the lowest life disparity, which we measure as the average remaining life expectancy at the ages when death strikes. Although saving lives at any age increases life expectancy, averting deaths at younger ages reduces life disparities while averting deaths at older ages increases inequalities in lifespan. There is an age that separates early deaths from late deaths. Countries with long life expectancy have gained this victory precisely by focusing on reductions in early deaths—and in doing so reduced their life disparity. This shows that it is not a question of either long life or low disparity: by averting early deaths, countries can achieve both.

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Presented in Session 15: Life Expectancy