If you were born during William Shakespeare’s lifetime, you could be expected to live to about 30 or 40 years of age. This 35 year old life expectancy remained up until the mid-1800s, when doctors began regularly washing their hands after performing surgery (something they hadn’t done before) and life expectancy really began to rise. Even as recently as 1920, countries such as Canada had an infant mortality rate of around ten percent. However since the discovery of penicillin and widespread sanitation in hospitals, life expectancy has risen at a steady rate to a world average of about 71 years of age (or twice what it was 250 years ago). But will life expectancy continue to rise at the current rate? What factors will cause longevity in thirty years-time?
The current statistics show that nowadays, in most developed countries, you’re expected to live to around 81 years of age. Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, France, Italy, Australia, and Iceland all boast a life expectancy of between 80 to 82 years of age. In San Marino, you should get to live to 83 years old and in Macau, 84 years old. The highest life expectancy is to be found in Monaco at a wise old 89 years of age, while the lowest is in Chad, Africa at 49 years – barely middle-age in the majority of other countries. The world average life expectancy as of 2015 is 71.4
Mathematically, however, the driving factor in calculating life expectancy is not really how long people live in a country, but how many die young. With this in mind, factors such as public health services, disease outbreaks, famine, traffic safety, and child mortality rates, all come into play along with personal health issues such as smoking, drinking, and drug taking, as well as social issues such as gun control, the murder rate, crime, war, and civil unrest. So the more developed a country is, with a civil society, high employment rate, and good health and social care systems, the higher life expectancy it should have.
Keeping in mind that social, health, hygiene and lifestyle options for the individual in most parts of the world should improve within the next thirty or so years, we can probably add another five to ten years onto the life expectancy using the same growth rate of the previous thirty years. In 1990, the global life expectancy was 65.3 years, and by 2013 it had risen to 71.5 years. It dropped slightly to 71.4 a couple of years later, but generally the trend is an upward increase of life expectancy over time, and within the last 30 years, we’ve seen a growth of 6 years, and it seems to fair to say that by 2050, with the above considered, we will be living another 6 years longer.
But that’s not where the study ends. By 2050, we should see a new range of technologies that could lead to radical life extensions of those who live in countries or are from a socio-economic background that affords access to such technologies. The 21st century should see a boom in life expectancy in a world of biotechnology or stem cell therapies being used every day. In the foreseeable future, we should see therapies whereby we isolate genes responsible for longevity and enhance their performance to promote a longer and healthier life. We also mustn’t overlook the potential of nanotechnology and new methods of repairing the body at a cellular and molecular level using technology such as nanobots. And on the subject of bots – robotics could lead to body part replacement and enhancement, and even brain emulations and mindscaping techniques to improve mental health care. Although some argue that the manipulation of the human body using foreign parts and materials will end up in the once organic human, morphing into cyborg territory – and therefore we are no longer talking about true human longevity. But for the sake of this episode, let’s say that as long as the human brain is intact, we can add and subtract from the rest of the body and still have a fully functional human being – and one who can live a lot longer whether it looks like Robocop or not.
But it’s not all good news. Some researchers predict that lifestyle factors such as obesity will actually reverse the trend in life expectancy. Epidemiologists and gerontologists such as Jay Olshanky warn that in countries like the USA, where 2/3s of the population is obese, diabetes and other complications of an overweight society could reduce how long we live in the 21st century. So if we are to help this rise in life expectancy, we should all be careful about what we eat and drink.
If and when these technologies do come into everyday life, they will be for use for the very rich and affluent, so we could see individual life expectancy rise dramatically to perhaps 200 years old. But for the majority of us, we will see our expectancy rise to perhaps 90 years of age, keeping in mind the ordinary 6 years we have observed in the last 30 years and the technological advances that should follow in the upcoming 30 years.
So if you were born in 2050, and you are watching this episode of The Infographics Show, leave a note in the comments section to see how far off we are from the 90 year old life expectancy prediction.
As for everyone else, do you think longer life expectancy will be beneficioal or detrimantal to society? Let us know in the comments.