In 1960, the world life expectancy was 52 years. Today, the average world citizen lives to age 69. Developed countries have the highest life expectancies, with averages hovering around 80. So how much will global life expectancy increase in the 21st century? And how much in your own lifetime?
There’s been a linear growth in life expectancy over the last 170 years, increasing regularly by 3 months every year since 1840, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Surely, it can’t go on forever? In 1999, leading research said we’d reach a life expectancy ceiling of 85 years, but Japanese women already have an average lifespan of 86, and their rate of survival is still one of the fastest growing in the world.
At the University of Southern Denmark, a research team at the Ageing Research Center, led by Kaare Christensen, claims life expectancy will continue to rise indefinitely. In fact, they’ve calculated that half the children born in the UK in 2000 will live past 100, and half the babies born in Japan in 2007 will live to be 107.
He claims that if life expectancies were about to reach a ceiling, we would have seen symptoms of deceleration, when rather we are seeing acceleration. He envisions a future in which the classic trisection of a life cycle - childhood, adulthood and old age - is changed to childhood, adulthood, “young” old age and “old” old age.
Jim Oeppen, from Cambridge University, claims 100 year olds will be commonplace within the lifetime of people alive today. He explains that there are no signs of a natural limit to how long humans can live, and that each time someone has predicted one, it has been exceeded within 5 years.
Every year, new breakthroughs in safety, medical science and treatment ensure continued growth in record life expectancies. Naturally, provisions need to be made to tackle the growing proportion of old people, which will force us to rethink many aspects of for example the welfare state.
If the current 165 year trend continues, people in the country with the highest life expectancy will have an average lifespan of 100 years by 2070.
Many prominent scientists confidently believe humans in this century will have the ability to extend their life indefinitely.
Calculate your own life expectancy here.