You can’t predict exactly how long you’ll live based on life expectancy estimates, but this data tells an important story.
While the global life expectancy is 73.2 years, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
Life expectancy data paints a picture of what impacts longevity on a global scale, from your genetics to your location and lifestyle.
Over the last century, life expectancy has risen drastically, thanks to medical and technological advances.
Below, we’re doing a deep dive into historical and current data to see just what affects life expectancy, starting with some key highlights.
Table of Contents
Where you live could have a major impact on how long you live.
The data below looks at life expectancy on a global, national, and regional scale.
Global Life Expectancy
To get a bird’s eye view of life expectancy worldwide, here’s a visualization of life expectancy across every nation, based on recent data from the United Nations.
As you can see, there is a fairly wide discrepancy among some continents and nations.
Life Expectancy by Continent
To narrow it down a bit more, here’s how life expectancy for individuals born in 2019 looks across continents, based on data from the Population Reference Bureau.
To break it down even further, let’s take a look at the countries with the highest and lowest life expectancies.
Nations with the Longest Life Expectancy
According to the United Nations Population Division, the nations below have the highest average life expectancy for males and females combined.
The life expectancy in these nations is more than 10 years longer than the global life expectancy.
Hong Kong has the longest overall life expectancy globally, at 85.29 years. The female life expectancy there is 88.17, while the male life expectancy is 82.38 years.
Nations with the Shortest Life Expectancy
|Central African Republic||54.36|
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the UN’s data reveals that the nations above have a life expectancy between 13 and 20 years lower than the global estimate.
The Central African Republic has the world’s shortest life expectancy, at 54.36 years, with a female life expectancy of 56.58 and a male life expectancy of 52.16.
Life Expectancy in Developing Countries vs Industrialized Countries
The comparison of life expectancies across nations above suggests that individuals in developing countries have a far shorter life expectancy.
Comparing the life expectancy of people born in 2018 in the most and least developed countries worldwide sheds more light on this disparity, based on stats from the Population Reference Bureau.
The life expectancy for both males and females is over 10 years longer in industrialized countries than it is in developing ones.
A number of factors are at play here, from population size to access to quality healthcare to income.
We’ll delve into some of those factors below, but first, let’s take a look at life expectancy in the United States.
Life Expectancy in the United States
Based on UN Population Division data, the United States has the 46th highest life expectancy in the world at 79.11 years. The average life expectancy for a female in the United States is 81.65 years, while the average for a male is 76.61 years.
Comparison of US and Canadian Life Expectancy
So how does the life expectancy for Americans compare to the life expectancy for Canadians?
The visualization below highlights the average life expectancy for males and females born today in different regions of North America, based on current mortality rates from the Population Reference Bureau.
The average life expectancy in Canada is 3 years higher for males and 4 years higher for females than it is in the United States.
While it’s clear that the nation you live in has an effect on life expectancy, does the area you live in have an impact?
Urban vs Rural Life Expectancy in the U.S.
Research suggests it does.
A recent study from the CDC compared the number of individuals who died by the five leading causes of death in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas of the US.
Rural areas see more deaths caused by heart disease, accidental illness, and lower respiratory disease than urban areas do.
Likewise, recent research from Des Moines University in The Journal of Rural Health found that rural areas have higher amounts of childhood obesity, though rural children may be more active than urban city dwellers.
Several factors could be at play here, from healthcare and healthy food accessibility to lifestyle choices.
Urban vs Rural Life Expectancy in Less Developed Countries
A comparison of life expectancy in rural and urban areas can be drawn in poor and middle income countries, with more startling disparities.
The World Health Organization’s 2020 World Health Statistics publication revealed the following:
20 per 1,000
In 1/3 of low and middle-income nations examined, there were 20 more deaths under five per 1,000 live births in rural areas than in urban ones.World Health ORganization
The data also revealed a lack of access to basic necessities in rural areas worldwide, which results in preventable deaths.
80% of the global population that lacks access to clean drinking water lives in rural areas, according to the World Health Organization.
70% of the global population that lacks access to sanitation services lives in rural areas as well.
While your environment and all it encompasses certainly plays a part in determining your life expectancy, longevity is also largely determined by genetics.
How Gender Affects Life Expectancy
All other things being equal, women statistically outlive men.
How much longer do they live?
6 to 8 years
The WHO estimates that women live 6 to 8 years longer than men, on average.World Health Organization
But once again, looking below the surface reveals that the disparity between male and female life expectancy expands and contracts when other factors come into play.
Using the data from the UN Population Division cited above, we compared the life expectancy of men and women in the countries with the highest and lowest overall life expectancy.
Male vs Female Longevity in Nations with the Longest Life Expectancy
|Country||Life Expectancy||female life expectancy||male life expectancy|
Male vs Female Longevity in Nations with the Shortest Life Expectancy
|Country||Life Expectancy||Female Life Expectancy||Male Life expectancy|
|Central African Republic||54.36||56.58||52.16|
In both data sets, females outlive males, but the gender gap shrinks along with the overall life expectancy in less-developed countries.
Why Female Life Expectancy is Longer than Male Life Expectancy
Several factors could be responsible for the global gap between male and female longevity.
A 2019 study published in Clinical Chemistry sheds some light on this inequality, weighing a handful of health factors.
The study suggests men are more likely to face fatal conditions like heart disease and strokes, while women are more prone to less-lethal yet more debilitating conditions such as arthritis and depression.
A recent UCLA study published by the National Academy of Sciences echoes this theory, suggesting cardiovascular disease in aging males is the leading contributor to the gender gap.
How Chronic Health Conditions Impact Life Expectancy
Gender aside, let’s delve deeper into the effects of chronic health conditions on life expectancy.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2016, 71% of all global deaths were due to non-communicable diseases.
The most commonly fatal non-communicable diseases included:
- Heart disease
Effects of Multiple Chronic Conditions on Life Expectancy
If one non-communicable disease influences your life expectancy, what about having two or more?
University of Maryland Professor Eva DuGoff, Ph.D., led a recent exploration of the effects of multi-morbidity on life expectancy in Medicare beneficiaries.
A 67-year-old with 5 chronic conditions lives an average of 7.7 years fewer than an individual with no chronic conditions.
With 6 to 10 chronic conditions, a 67-year-old will live an average of 17.6 years fewer than an individual with no chronic conditions.
This study and others suggest that the more chronic conditions one has, the shorter his or her life expectancy is, regardless of sex or location.
Conditions that Increase Risk of Serious Illness or Death from COVID-19
While there are many uncertainties surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy, the CDC has assessed the impact of several chronic illnesses on the severity of the virus.
The table below highlights which illnesses are most likely to elevate the risk of serious illness or death with COVID-19, based on the consensus level of research surrounding each condition.
|Evidence Level||Medical condition|
|Strongest||Serious heart conditions|
|Chronic kidney disease|
|Sickle cell disease|
|Type 2 Diabetes|
|High blood pressure|
|Limited||Bone marrow transplant|
|Genetic metabolic |
|Type 1 Diabetes|
Life Expectancy and Infectious Diseases
While COVID-19 is taking the world by storm, the overall impact of communicable diseases on life expectancy has diminished drastically over the years.
As stated in the WHO’s 2020 World Health Statistics publication,
The number of global polio cases has been reduced by 99.9% since 1988, with just 175 cases reported in 2019.
Hepatitis B and HPV vaccination have become more widespread, too, decreasing the number of deaths due to these diseases.
However, lower respiratory illness, diarrheal disease, and tuberculosis are still among the three leading causes of death worldwide.World Health Organization
Though you can’t control some life expectancy factors like genetic conditions, others are dependent on your lifestyle.
Research suggests that the way you live could alter the length of your life, sometimes for the better.
Effects of Tobacco Use on Life Expectancy
While smoking is on the decline, tobacco use is still a major contributor to premature death, leading to some of the most fatal illnesses like lung cancer and heart disease.
But how much does tobacco use affect your life expectancy?
According to research released by the US Surgeon General, smokers have a life expectancy that is at least 10 years shorter than non-smokers.CDC
How Quitting Smoking Affects Life Expectancy
Research suggests halting tobacco use can increase your life expectancy by several years.
The estimates from the World Health Organization below show how many years smokers could add to their lives, based on when they quit.
|Quitting Age||Increase in Life expectancy|
Moreover, the WHO determined that quitting smoking after a heart attack decreases an individual’s chance of suffering a subsequent heart attack by 50%.
Effects of Alcohol Use on Life Expectancy
While it’s a bit more difficult to quantify the impact alcohol has on life expectancy, a recent Lancet study out of the UK sought to do just that.
Examining the drinking patterns of nearly 600,000 individuals from 19 countries, it concluded the following about the impact of various levels of drinking on life expectancy:
While alcohol consumption slightly diminishes the risk of non-fatal heart attacks, the study suggests drinking in excess increases your risk of fatal cardiovascular events, strokes, and hypertension.
Consuming more than 100 grams, or 7 drinks a week, can shorten your life expectancy and increase your risk of all-cause mortality.
Effects of Physical Activity and Diet on Life Expectancy
Whereas smoking and drinking may shorten your life expectancy, physical activity, nutrition, and longevity go hand-in-hand.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states there is strong evidence that exercising regularly diminishes the risk of several major causes of premature death:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Heart disease
Research suggests the life expectancy for runners is 3 years longer than that of sedentary individuals.Journal of the American College of Cardiology
A healthy diet also lessens the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Effects of Physical Activity on Life Expectancy Over 50
Based on the findings of a study in the Archives on Internal Medicine, here’s how many years men and women over 50 could lengthen their life expectancy and the number of years spent without cardiovascular disease.
|level of exercise||life expectancy||years w/o cardiovascular disease|
|Moderate exercise, male||1.3 years||1.1 years|
|High exercise, male||3.7 years||3.2 years|
|Moderate exercise, female||1.5 years||1.3 years|
|High exercise, female||3.5 years||3.3 years|
How a Holistic Healthy Lifestyle Impacts Life Expectancy
On their own, the lifestyle factors above have an impact on life expectancy, but what happens when you combine them?
A 2018 Harvard study examined the cumulative effect of these 5 healthy lifestyle choices on life expectancy in the U.S.:
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not drinking excessively
- Abstaining from smoking
The life expectancy for women who adopted all of the healthy lifestyle factors was 14 years higher at age 50 than that of women who adopted none of them.
The life expectancy for men who adopted all of the healthy lifestyle factors was 12 years higher at age 50 than that of men who adopted none of them.
How Hobbies Impact Life Expectancy
Another factor that could have an impact on longevity, for better or for worse, is your choice of hobby.
According to a 2016 study out of Japan published in the Journal of Epidemiology, there could be a clear link between having hobbies and living longer.
The study found that individuals ages 65 and older could extend both their overall life expectancy and their years of healthy life expectancy with a hobby.
While many hobbies increase your life expectancy, some of the dangerous hobbies below could shorten it:
How Marital Status Impacts Life Expectancy
Whether or not you’re married could also play a role in your life expectancy, according to several studies.
A recent one in the American Journal of Epidemiology evaluated data from 90 previous studies, comparing the lifespans of millions of singles and married individuals.
In an interview with NBC News, the study’s lead researcher David Roelfs estimated the life expectancy gap between single and married people, in a worst-case scenario:
8 to 17 years
The life expectancy for a married man is estimated to be 8-17 years longer than that of a single man.
7 to 15 years
The life expectancy for a married woman is estimated to be 7 to 15 years longer than that of a single man.
While singles face a higher risk of dying early than married people do, the gap lessens as singles get older, based on the study’s findings.
Socioeconomic status is another one of the biggest determinants of life expectancy.
Everything from your education and wealth to the quality of healthcare you have access to could have a major impact on how long you live.
Like the genetic and lifestyle factors above, these elements often go hand-in-hand.
How Education Affects Life Expectancy
According to a new cross-sectional study published in JAMA, life expectancy in black and white Americans can be linked to their level of education.
Between 2010 and 2017, the life expectancy for black and white Americans saw an overall decline.
From 2010 to 2017, life expectancy at 25 increased for college-educated Americans of both sexes and races, but it decreased for individuals with a high school degree or less.
Both sexes and races saw an increase in drug-related deaths, one of the main causes of premature deaths in less-educated Americans.
How Wealth Affects Life Expectancy
Hand in hand with education, your economic status has a major influence on life expectancy.
85% of global premature deaths occurred in low or middle-income countries in 2016.
While life expectancy is on the rise in low-income countries, it was 18.1 years shorter than in high-income countries in 2016.World health Organization
A recent JAMA study took an in-depth look at the disparity in life expectancy between the highest and lowest income earners in the United States. Using data from 2001 to 2014, it found:
The life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest 1% of Americans is 14.6 years.
How Occupation Affects Life Expectancy
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupations below saw the highest number of fatal workplace injuries in 2018.
In addition to facing a higher risk of fatal injuries, a study from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business suggests that workers in high-stress jobs have a shorter life expectancy, due to less flexibility and control over their job.
Intersection of Education, Occupation, and Life Expectancy
Researchers from Harvard and Stanford recently explored the link between jobs, education, and life expectancy.
Based on the study, the 10–24% disparity in life expectancy between the most and least educated levels of society and the 13–38% gap between the highest and middle levels of education can be partially attributed to a series of workplace exposures.
Some of the most significant exposures linked to a shorter life expectancy included:
- Low job control
- Lack of health insurance
- Unemployment and layoffs
How Limited Healthcare Impacts Life Expectancy
One of the biggest contributors to the life expectancy gap in the study above was a lack of health insurance.
Beyond a lack of health insurance in the workplace, the overall lack of access to critical healthcare services has a drastic effect on life expectancy, resulting in preventable fatalities.
1/3 to 1/2
Only 1/3 to 1/2 of the world’s population had access to essential health services in 2017.World Health Organization
The 2020 World Health Statistics release also explains that the nations with the smallest life expectancy gap between men and women have the most limited access to health services.
In 2017, 86% of all maternal deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where prenatal, birthing, and post-natal care services are limited.
Another lens through which to view life expectancy is a historical one.
Viewing the changes in life expectancy over time highlights the impact of societal advances and the progress that still needs to be made.
Increase in Global Life Expectancy
According to data compiled by Our World in Data, here’s how life expectancy has changed across the world since 1770.
Changes in US Life Expectancy from 1860 to 2020
Based on data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, here’s a look at the change in overall life expectancy from birth in the United States over the last two centuries.
Both the US and global life expectancy has increased substantially over time.
Increased Life Expectancy in Less Developed Countries
While there is still a glaring disparity between life expectancy in developing and industrialized nations, things are looking up.
A 2017 release from the United Nations revealed an extraordinary increase in life expectancy in developing nations over the last several decades.
Between 1970 and 2015, less developed countries have seen an increase in life expectancy of 3.6 years per decade.United Nations
Increase in Maternal and Childhood Life Expectancy
With the development of vaccines and other healthcare improvements, children’s and mothers’ life expectancies have seen an increase.
According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate for children under five dropped from 76 per 1,000 live births to 39 between 2000 and 2018.WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
As healthcare access improves and vaccines become more accessible, life expectancy at birth should continue to climb.
Likewise, the worldwide maternal mortality ratio has decreased by 38% since 2000.
Life expectancty has doubled over the last two centuries.
As the world continues to develop, people are living longer overall.
However, life expectancy data also showcases the disparities that still remain amongst people of different sexes, nationalities, socioeconomic classes, and lifestyles.
These numbers help tell the story of individuals at the global, national, and even local levels, spurring further research and progress.