As recently as the turn of the century, many researchers believed
that life expectancy would never surpass 90 years.
Life expectancies in developed countries are projected to continue
increasing, with women's life expectancy potentially surpassing 90 years
old in South Korea by 2030, according to a study published in The Lancet
‘Out of 35 developed nations, South Korea is likely to see the largest increase in life expectancy, with female life expectancy potentially surpassing 90 years.’
The study predicts life expectancy is likely to be highest in South
Korea (90.8 years old), France (88.6 years old) and Japan (88.4 years
old) for women, and in South Korea (84.1 years old), Australia (84.0
years old) and Switzerland (84.0 years old) for men.
The researchers advise that increasing life expectancies will have
major implications for health and social services that will need to
adapt and will require policies to support healthy ageing, increase
investment in health and social care, and possibly changes to retirement
Professor Majid Ezzati, Imperial College London, UK, said, "Our predictions of
increasing lifespans highlight our public health and healthcare
successes. However, it is important that policies to support the growing
older population are in place. In particular, we will need to both
strengthen our health and social care systems and to establish
alternative models of care such as technology-assisted home care."
In the study, researchers used a statistical technique used in
weather forecasting to determine their projections and how certain they
are. They developed 21 models to predict life expectancy in 35 developed
countries - unlike most life expectancy projections which are based on a
single model - and combined the results from these models based on how
well they performed.
All the predictions in the study come with a range
of uncertainty. For instance, there is a 90% probability that life
expectancy for South Korean women in 2030 will be higher than 86.7
years, and a 57% probability that it will be higher than 90 years.
Although life expectancy is predicted to increase across all 35
countries, the extent of the increase varies by country. Comparing 2030
and 2010 life expectancies, female life expectancy is projected to
increase most in South Korea, Slovenia and Portugal (6.6, 4.7 and 4.4
years, respectively). While for men life expectancy will increase most
in Hungary, South Korea and Slovenia (7.5, 7.0 and 6.4 years).
Life expectancy is predicted to increase least in Macedonia,
Bulgaria, Japan and the USA (1.4, 1.5, 1.8 and 2.1 years) for women, and
in Macedonia, Greece and Sweden and the USA (2.4, 2.7, 3.0 and 3.0
years) for men.
The USA is predicted to see relatively small improvements in life
expectancy (from 81.2 for in 2010 to 83.3 in 2030 for women and 76.5 to
79.5 for men). US life expectancy is already lower than most other
high-income countries, and is expected to fall further behind in 2030,
potentially as a result of its large inequalities, absence of universal
health insurance and of the country having the highest homicide rate,
body mass index (BMI) and death rates for children and mothers of all
Conversely, South Korea's projected gains may be the result of
continued improvements in economic status which has improved nutrition
for children, access to healthcare and medical technology across the
whole population. This has resulted in fewer deaths from infections and
better prevention and treatment for chronic diseases, in a way that is
more equitable than some Western countries.
As well as calculating life expectancy at birth in 2030, the
researchers projected how long those aged 65 years were likely to live
in 2030. They found that women were likely to live an additional 24
years in 11 of the 35 countries, and that 65-year old men were likely to
an additional 20 years in 22 countries - illustrating that older
populations are likely to continue growing across the developed world.
With an ageing population it will be important to help people to age
healthily and ease the impact of an ageing population on health systems
through programs that support healthy lifestyles and detect and treat
diseases early. Providing assistive technology could also help older
people remain in their homes by compensating for loss of mobility and
senses, while building communities that are more accessible and
providing good transportation services could help older people access
amenities while staying in their community for longer.
The social implications of this change will also likely require
changes to pensions and retirement, with further payments of social
security and pensions needed to support those living longer. As a
result, the researchers propose changes to working practice through
changing retirement age or creating schemes that allow a gradual
transition to retirement.
"Dealing with an ageing population will require a combination of
strengthening and positioning our health and social care systems and our
societies as a whole, so as to ensure that people age healthily,
continue to contribute to society for longer, and receive appropriate
pension and care once they age." said Professor Ezzati.
The researchers explain that the next step of their research will be
to extend their model to specific diseases as well as to all countries
to provide more accurate predictions of life expectancy globally. The
study cannot take into account unprecedented events, such as major
political change that affects social and health system determinants of
health, in its forecasts because the effects of such events are unknown
or highly uncertain.
Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Ailiana Santosa, Umeå University,
Sweden, said: "Countries are moving towards universal health coverage.
Forecasting life expectancy at birth and at age 65 years can help
governments and health services to make the right investments in health,
such as averting deaths due to infectious diseases and reducing
maternal and child mortality. Achieving universal health coverage is
worthy, plausible, and needs to be continued."