How long is life expectancy?

How Long Can I Expect to Live? Plus Other FAQs About Life Expectancy

Have you ever wondered how old you’ll be when you die? Even if it was just to estimate how much you should put away in your 401(k) or how much time you have to pay off your student loans?

Life expectancy represents the average number of years that someone can expect to live depending on the year they were born. For anyone born in the United States in 2017, life expectancy is 78.6 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Another way that experts measure life expectancy involves considering the percentage of people who live to specified ages. Using that approach, in 2017 nearly 25 out of 100 people in the United States lived to celebrate their 90th birthday, according to the CDC.

Both those calculations are based on averages of the entire population and include all sexes, races, and parts of the country. How long each individual lives is determined by many factors, says Qi Sun, MD, a doctor of science and an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He explains that life expectancy is influenced by genes, environment, and lifestyle choices: “We can look at how the life span has increased over the last 100 years and see that it’s modifiable,” he says.

Read on for commonly asked questions about life expectancy and what you can do to live longer and healthier.

RELATED: Study Shows These 5 Healthy Habits Can Add More Than a Decade to Your Life

Do the ages that my parents or grandparents died make a difference in figuring out my life expectancy?

Family history is a big predictor of longevity. “If you look at parents’ life span and compare it with their offsprings’, you’ll find certain correlations because sometimes they share the same genes,” says Dr. Sun. If some of those genes lead to certain diseases, it may shorten life span. “On the other hand,” he adds, “families that have good genes may live longer.”

Some similarities in health patterns that may seem genetic could also be due to common habits and location. Family members often share the same environment, especially when children are young and still live at home. “Families eat a similar diet and have the same access to medical care, which are both factors that impact longevity,” Sun says.

You just need to look at data from 100 years ago and compare it with current life expectancy to see that there’s more to longevity than simply genetics. According to the CDC, the life expectancy of someone who was born in 1900 was only 47.3 years.

“Genetics wouldn’t really explain this jump,” Sun says, adding that a lot of things combined to cause this increase, including improved medical care and hygiene.

RELATED: Processed Foods Linked to Shorter Life Span, Study Finds

Why do women live longer than men?

Women tend to live longer than men, and that’s been the case for at least the past century, says Robert Anderson, PhD, chief of the mortality statistics branch of the CDC. “Before that, a very high maternal mortality pulled down the average life expectancy for women,” he says.

Ever since medical improvements led to a huge decrease in the number of women dying during childbirth, life expectancy for women has gone up. According to the latest CDC data, women in the United States live close to five years longer than men, on average. “Some experts argue that there’s a genetic component, while others theorize that it has to do with differences in risk-taking,” says Dr. Anderson.

Why do some races have a shorter life expectancy?

On average, black Americans have a shorter life expectancy than white Americans, and Hispanic people living in the United States have the longest life span of all three groups. About 76 out 100 Hispanic Americans will live until at least 75 years of age, compared with about 70 white Americans and approximately 60 black Americans.

It’s not clear why black Americans die sooner. “We haven’t identified any real genetic component that would cause this difference,” says Anderson. It could be due to culture and diet, and there may be significant environmental factors that contribute.

As a group, a higher percentage of black Americans have heart disease than white Americans, according to the American Heart Association. Although the gap in life expectancy between the black and white population has begun to close — it decreased by 2.3 years from 1999 to 2013, according to the CDC — it still exists. Stress, more limited access to health care, and cultural factors all play a role, says Anderson.

Hispanic Americans may have the longest life span because they are less likely to die from a number of health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, and suicide, according to the CDC.

RELATED: Facing Common Health Threats Among African-Americans

Is U.S. life expectancy increasing?

The long-term increase in life expectancy over the past century is largely due to two factors. “From 1900 until 1950 and then from 1950 to 2000, there was a fairly dramatic increase in life expectancy, primarily due to control of infectious diseases,” says Anderson, citing significant discoveries in antibiotics and vaccines and improvements in sanitation.

Since 1950, gains in longevity are mostly due to advances in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke. “There’s also been an improvement in the cancer death rates beginning in the mid-1990s,” Anderson says. Cardiovascular disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in the United States, accounting for about 40 percent of total deaths.

Life expectancy has actually declined slightly over the past three years, according to the CDC. Although the CDC says the trend is largely driven by drug overdose and suicide, there is another, more significant factor: the obesity epidemic.

“I think it’s fair to say that we are already seeing the impact of obesity on life expectancy,” Sun says. “A lot of people out there blamed the opioid crisis or drug overdose for the decrease in life expectancy, but the obesity problem is much bigger.”

RELATED: The CDC Reports a Drop in U.S. Life Expectancy

What are the most important factors that determine how long you live?

“Basically any factor that influences mortality also contributes to life expectancy, because mortality is how life expectancy is calculated,” says Sun. Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body mass index, and diabetes are established risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke, and people who have those diseases have a shorter life expectancy.

Okay, I haven’t had the healthiest lifestyle, and now I’m over 50. Am I doomed?

“It’s never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” says Sun. If a person has spent decades eating an unhealthy diet or being physically inactive, they may or may not have developed certain chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Still, “If those individuals move their diet and exercise habits from the unhealthier end of the spectrum to the healthier side, they can improve their life span,” Sun says. “Just follow common sense: no smoking, avoid alcohol or drug abuse, eat a healthy diet, engage in physical activity, and try to stay positive and optimistic.”

If you need more incentive to make lifestyle changes, consider this: Research shows that older adults are enjoying themselves more than just about everyone else. According to a survey of 1,546 Californians ages 21 to 99, people in their nineties were the most content. The research, published in August 2016 in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found that older people were happier and less depressed, and had less anxiety than younger people.

Life expectancy

Situation

Life expectancy at birth reflects the overall mortality level of a population. It summarizes the mortality pattern that prevails across all age groups in a given year – children and adolescents, adults and the elderly. Global life expectancy at birth in 2016 was 72.0 years (74.2 years for females and 69.8 years for males), ranging from 61.2 years in the WHO African Region to 77.5 years in the WHO European Region, giving a ratio of 1.3 between the two regions. Women live longer than men all around the world. The gap in life expectancy between the sexes was 4.3 years in 2000and had remained almost the same by 2016 (4.4).

Global average life expectancy increased by 5.5 years between 2000 and 2016, the fastest increase since the 1960s. Those gains reverse declines during the 1990s, when life expectancy fell in Africa because of the AIDS epidemic, and in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The 2000-2016 increase was greatest in the WHO African Region, where life expectancy increased by 10.3 years to 61.2 years, driven mainly by improvements in child survival, and expanded access to antiretrovirals for treatment of HIV.

American life expectancy has dropped again. Here’s why

If life expectancy gives us “a snapshot of the nation’s overall health,” then new federal numbers released Thursday “are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” says Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the government’s annual mortality report, life expectancy in the U.S. overall fell in 2017 for the second time in three years.

The average American could expect to live 78.6 years, down from 78.7 years in 2016, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is the first time since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 that the U.S. has reported such a trend in lost life, said Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics with the National Center for Health Statistics.

The dip in 2017 is subtler than after the pandemic at the end of World War I (in that case, “we’re talking years of life expectancy, not tenths of years” like today), and doesn’t come from a single global infectious disease (although deadly flu cases did surge in 2017).

But Anderson said the latest data suggest this mortality trend is heavily influenced by the ongoing drug epidemic and a rising rate of suicides nationwide. And many people dying as a result of those two causes tend to be younger than in recent decades, he said.

“When young people die, it tends to be much more poignant,” Anderson said, noting the loss of so much unrealized human potential.

The National Center for Health Statistics made a few methodological changes to how they analyze their data, so 2016, a year that had previously been reported as a dip, now reads as flat.

Here are some key takeaways from the report.

Heart disease and cancer still drive U.S. deaths

Of the 2.8 million U.S. deaths recorded in 2017, heart disease and cancer continue to be the primary causes, accounting for a combined 44 percent of deaths overall, roughly the same as the previous year.

These deaths do not tend to influence the nation’s overall life expectancy as much, Anderson explained, because they typically occur later in life.

More than 70,000 people died as a result of drug overdose

Nationwide, 70,237 people died following a drug overdose in 2017, a 9.6-percent increase over 2016, when there were 63,600 fatal drug overdoses, according to federal data. The rate of 2017 deaths linked to drug overdose was 21.7 per 100,000 deaths — a startling rise from 1999, when the rate was 6.1 per 100,000 deaths.

In a supplementary report comparing trends in drug overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017, the highest rates of drug overdose deaths were found among adults between ages 25 and 54, the report said. These years tend to be those when people hit their peaks personally and professionally — forging new careers, forming romantic partnerships, having children and achieving that “potential.”

West Virginia’s overdose death rate was more than double that of the national rate. Ohio and Pennsylvania had the next highest rates of overdose death. Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota reported the lowest rates of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.

In 2017, the greatest number of deadly overdoses were again from the use of opioids, totaling 47,600 deaths. Compared to almost 20 years ago, that rate increased five-fold, up from 2.9 per 100,000 deaths in 1999 to 14.9 per 100,000 deaths in 2017.

Breaking it down even further, nearly 28,500 people died after overdosing on synthetic opioids; the extremely potent drug fentanyl primarily drove those deaths. Heroin overdoses made up more than 15,400 deaths, marking a dramatic rise from 1999, when fewer than 2,000 people died from heroin overdose.

Suicide is on the rise

Last year, 47,173 Americans killed themselves, the latest federal data shows, marking a 3.7 percent increase from the previous year. More dramatically, suicide rates have risen 33 percent nationwide since 1999, from 10.5 to 14.5 per 100,000 deaths, with significant discrepancies between genders and among different communities.

Men were more than three times more likely to kill themselves than women, but the suicide rate among women is on the rise. Geographically, the overall number of suicides was greater in urban parts of the country, where the 2017 rate was 11.1 per 100,000 deaths, compared to 9.6 in 1999.

Although the total number of deaths in rural communities was smaller, the rate rose sharply during the same time period, up from 13.1 to 20 per 100,000 deaths.

Because so many drug overdose deaths are ruled as unintentional because of a lack of irrefutable evidence to suggest otherwise — such as a suicide note — Anderson said the number of suicides in the U.S. “almost certainly is an undercount,” but does not know to what extent.

Huge spike in flu-related deaths in 2017

In an echo of 1918, 2017 marked an historic rise in deaths linked to influenza and pneumonia, accounting for 5.9 percent of U.S. deaths overall and the ninth leading cause of death nationwide.

After the 2017 winter holidays, fatal flu and pneumonia cases began to tick upward, Anderson said. At this point in the current flu season, he said it is too soon to know if the U.S. will endure a similarly devastating flu season.

What has been done to address the deadly opioid crisis?

In 2017, President Donald Trump said his administration would work to bend the curve on opioid overdose deaths.

He declared opioid misuse and fatalities a public health emergency in October of that year, and in November, a commission Trump had established by executive order released 56 recommendations to curb the crisis.

Among those suggestions, the commission’s report suggested sharing data between the nationwide prescription drug monitoring program and the Department of Justice; greater federal coordination in all strategies targeting the opioid crisis; continuous training for anyone in the medical field who has authority to prescribe opioids; and more resources for opioid addiction treatment, overdose reversal and recovery.

But have those efforts made a dent in the 2018 number of fatal drug overdoses? Anderson said it is too early to know for certain, but with the first three months of 2018 data in hand, he said preliminary numbers “may indicate the drug overdose epidemic is leveling off.”

The scale and scope of people struggling with substance use and suicide attempts demands comprehensive action from government and health care sectors, said John Auerbach, president and chief executive officer of the Trust for America’s Health, in a released statement.

His organization, along with the Well Being Trust, released a 2017 report that projected as many as 1.6 million Americans may die in the decade leading up to 2025 from causes tied to alcohol, substance use and suicide if current trends persist. The report encouraged the adoption of a national resilience strategy, intended to boost supports, identify early warning signs and enhance treatment for people struggling with mental health and substance use.

“Another year of increasing numbers of drug overdose deaths is a national emergency, that can’t be overstated,” he said.

Beth Connolly, director for substance use prevention and treatment initiative at Pew Charitable Trusts and former commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, said, “more action is needed to address the opioid crisis.” High on her list: giving individuals access to medication-assisted treatment, “which has been proven to reduce opioid overdose deaths and save lives.”

Michael Botticelli, former drug czar during the Obama administration who now directs the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, said that’s one of the actions — along with broader access to naloxone, an antidote that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose — we know are effective in fighting opioid addiction. Making sure that treatment is covered by insurance is just as important.

“There are states and localities that are bending the curve by implementing these and other strategies with urgency,” he said in a written statement to the PBS NewsHour. “Given the decrease in life expectancy, we need to focus more attention on the root causes that drive these deaths.”

If you or someone you know has talked about contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

How long are you going to live?

Life expectancy is rising globally – people born in 2016 will on average live seven years longer than those born 25 years ago.

Enter your information below to find the life expectancy for people of your age, country and gender, as well as the proportion of your life you can on average expect to be healthy.

Life expectancy at birth, by country (years)

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Europe
  • N America
  • Oceania
  • S America

The average global life expectancy from birth is 72 – that’s 70 for men and 75 for women. However, this changes with age. For example, somebody aged 69 may expect to live another 17 years on average.

If you cannot view the life expectancy calculator, .

Nine revealing facts about how long we live

Why does life expectancy change based on your age?

Life expectancy is the number of years on average a person is expected to live based on their age, gender and country. The Global Burden of Disease calculates life expectancy by using a country’s mortality rates across age groups.

Life expectancy may vary for people of different ages because it is calculated as the number of years a person is expected to live given they have already reached a certain age.

For example, a girl born in 2016 in Mexico is expected to live to age 79, however the life expectancy of a 65-year-old woman in Mexico in 2016 is 84. Her life expectancy is higher because she has already reached 65 and is therefore more likely to live another 20 years.

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How does the calculator work?

The data behind the calculator is from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease Study.

The values for life expectancy in the calculator are rounded to the nearest year after adding the age input to the remaining life expectancy for the relevant age group. In most cases age groups span five years, for example from ages 10 to 14.

‘How much of your remaining life will be healthy’ is calculated from the number of years a person can expect to live in good health, taking into account disability. This is displayed as a percentage of their remaining life expectancy.

Results assume that rates of death and disability remain constant over the remainder of a person’s life, so do not account for any expected scientific advances and improvements in medical treatments.

Calculator produced by Tom Calver, Nassos Stylianou, Becky Dale, Nick Triggle, Ransome Mpini, Prina Shah, Joe Reed and Eleanor Keane.

With thanks to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

In 1850, the average human lifespan was 43 years. Now it’s closer to 80.

How high could it go?

According to the book “100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith,” by Sonia Arrison, some babies born today may be able to live to be 150 years old.

In Silicon Valley, scientists and investors are preparing for this golden age of aging.

Arrison admits that the inspiration for her latest book came from an unlikely source — reality TV, saying, “It was the show ‘The Swan,’ … and there’s this man and this woman on the edge of their bed crying, ’cause they were so happy that they had changed their lives, you know … getting new clothes and new teeth and a bit of liposuction. It kinda hit me where I’m like, ‘Wow. I wonder what else you could do with technology to change your life?”‘

Eight years of research later, she published “100 Plus,” a book that reads like science fiction — but isn’t.

That’s because scientists are making huge strides: growing new organs from adult human stem cells, creating body parts with 3-D printers, and the “holy grail” of biological engineering: using gene therapy to successfully treat diseases like hereditary blindness and leukemia.

But getting there will take money — a lot of it.

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder, is among the handful of billionaires financing the effort. He considers death a problem – one that can be solved.

Are we closer to solving the problem?

“There’s every reason to expect we’ll make tremendous progress on this,” Thiel replied.

Progress that could lead to breakthroughs. Like when microbiologist Cynthia Kenyon, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco, discovered that, by mutating one gene in a species of small worms, their lifespan could double. “The hope,” she says, “is that we could make a drug that would replicate in humans, so it would allow humans to stay young longer, as well.”

To develop this anti-aging drug for humans, Dr. Kenyon relies largely on donors like Thiel, as her specialty is still considered fringe science. Out of the $31 billion the National Institutes of Health distributed in 2009, only $164 million went to biological aging research.

Calling biology an engineering project is terminology that “might scare people,” Arrison concedes. “Some people are worried that we’re gonna create designer humans or something like that. And, you know, I think — I think that that’s something that we should be concerned about. … But what I’m talking about is helping people who are already here live longer and healthier lives.”

For these centenarians, Arrison says, new rules will accompany longer lives, rules such as like sunset clauses in marriages, and second, or even third careers.

Arrison says such prospects excite her. “You know why? Because it gives people options and allows them to create the life that they really wanna live. And I think that’s extremely exciting.”

To watch Glor’s full story, click on the video in the player above.

So this statistic is useful for measuring the health of a country’s inhabitants, but it’s not useful if what you want to know is how long your new child will live. For that, you need to look at cohort life expectancy, a statistic that adjusts for the fact that death rates tend to decline over time as health and safety improve. According to the Social Security Administration, that’s 83.1 years for boys born in the United States in 2015, and 86.8 years for girls.

But wait, I have more good news: Those estimates are probably not optimistic enough. The Technical Panel on Assumptions and Methods established by the Social Security Advisory Board, an independent government agency that advises Social Security’s trustees on matters including actuarial assumptions, says Social Security is systematically underestimating future declines in mortality rates, and therefore underestimating the likely life spans of young Americans. (Demographic estimates, of course, are necessary to project future revenues and expenses for the program.)

In the long run, the Social Security Administration assumes the “mortality improvement rate” will be 0.71 percent — that is, the odds of dying at a given age will fall, on average, that much each year. Remember, that’s a rate of relative improvement, and at most ages the odds of dying are low, so the numbers won’t move around very much. If a person your age had a 1 percent chance of dying in a given year, the S.S.A.’s assumption of 0.71 percent annual mortality improvement would imply a 0.9921 percent chance of death the following year for people a year younger than you — just a little bit safer.

The technical panel thinks 0.71 percent isn’t high enough, and that Social Security should assume an improvement rate of 1 percent a year, which better reflects past improvements in health. Over time, that small difference would compound into a meaningful increase in life expectancy. By 2090, this change in assumptions would add two and a half years to life expectancy, relative to the assumptions currently used by Social Security.

That is, there is a very good chance today’s newborn boys will live to be about 85, and newborn girls will approach 90, on average.

Boomers and Millennials Misunderstand How Long They Will Live

Life expectancy–how long a person of a given generation can be expected to live–enters into a lot of decisions we make, but we often screw up our estimates. Some of the mistakes are relevant to individual planning while others are relevant to our society’s political decisions.

You have heard this truism repeated endlessly: “The average American can today expect to live perhaps dozens more years in retirement than did the previous generation, and many retirees today will receive retirement benefits for decades longer than those who entered the Social Security system in the 1930’s.” But this assertion is simply wrong, and it is a dangerous mistake to make.

It might be your mutual fund company appealing for greater individual retirement savings. Or it might be your Senator making a misguided evaluation of Social Security benefits. The fallacious argument always goes something like this: Americans born in the year 1900 could expect to live about 49 years. Post-war baby boomers of the late 1940’s will live on average to their late 60’s, and babies born today have a life expectancy of about 79 years. Therefore, we now need to save much more and to delay retirements in order to be fair to the next generation and be true to the original aims of the Social Security system. After all, life expectancy has increased by 30 years. The truth is that there may be good reasons to reform social security, work longer, and save more, but increased longevity isn’t one of them.

The reality is that the average 1946-born baby boomer retiring this year can expect to live about 18 or 19 years. Compare that to his or her grandparents who retired at age 65 in the 1960’s and could expect to live about 15 years, and you see the proper comparison. The correct evaluation involves life expectancy at age 65, not at birth! The truth, surprising to many, is that the average increase in life expectancy for a 65-year-old is only about four years.

The fallacy arises from the fact that life expectancy is measured from birth, but years in retirement is measured from about age 65. Reductions in infant and child mortality have been dramatic during the 20th century, but 65-year-olds today are not strikingly healthier or longer-living than 65-year-olds of the previous generation or two. If life were being extended for decades there would be lots of 115-year-old Americans running around, but there aren’t any at all.

These errors about life extension and life expectancy in retirement are so seductive that I have seen them not only in politics but in economics, and even in a speech by an Ivy League president. It is true there will soon be many more people in the very, very tiny minority who live to 100, a “striking” but irrelevant increase. It is wonderful that many fewer Americans have heart attacks in their 50’s (due to blood pressure and cholesterol medications), but this is not producing a large extension of adult lifespan in old age. In fact, if you think about people you know or knew in your parents’ or grandparents’ generation, you’ll see that it has long been true that if a couple is in good health in their late 60’s, then there is a good chance that at least one of them would live to their 80’s or 90’s. But have you ever met a 105-year-old man?

There are many excellent reasons to keep working beyond age 65–health reasons, economic reasons, and national security reasons. My own scientific research on aging and longevity–with an 8-decade monitoring of pathways to long life reported in The Longevity Project–confirms that staying productive is a key element of long-term health and happiness. But the truth is that most healthy adults today will live only a few years longer than their parents, unless there is some very unexpected medical breakthrough. The irony is that it probably doesn’t have to be this way.

The great benefit to society–the dramatic drop in infant and child morbidity and mortality–has been due mostly to low-cost vaccines and public health improvements.
There’s the rub. For half a century now, since the days when President John Kennedy invigorated the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and led the way with 50-mile hikes, we have known that there are major lifestyle changes that could reduce medical costs while increasing adult life expectancy significantly. We know what needs to be done but we’re very confused about how to make it happen. With an obese, sedentary, poorly-nourished population–and millions of smokers, alcoholics, drug abusers, reckless drivers, and neglected children–we don’t have to worry that the average American will live extra dozens of years in retirement. The costs to everyone’s pocketbooks and the serious threats to our aging population are not coming from increasing longevity. With a clearer view of the facts, we can better focus on the solutions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: There are self-quizzes and scales in my latest book to see if you are on a healthy life trajectory. See: The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. NY: Hudson Street Press. To read the Introduction (free), go to: http://www.howardsfriedman.com/longevityproject/
Image from Wikimedia commons en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HumanNewborn.JPG

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