Is Life Expectancy Falling? Really?

"Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon."
- Doug Larson

Is it for real?

When, in meetings, I make the point that life expectancy has started to decline in some of the most prosperous countries, I often run into a wall of disbelief. Many simply don’t believe me, so I decided to do some further digging.

In my search for answers, I made some quite interesting observations (if anything to do with death can ever be described as interesting), and I will share those observations with you today. While it is indeed correct that life expectancy at birth has dropped modestly in some developed countries in recent years, there are a few caveats. I strongly suspect those caveats have coloured perceptions.

Some statistics to prove my case

Before I go any further, let me throw some numbers at you to prove my case. As per the most recent statistics, overall US life expectancy at birth averaged 78.6 years in 2017 – down from 78.7 years in 2016 (Exhibit 1). Whereas women held steady at 81.1 years, life expectancy for men dropped from 76.3 to 76.1 years. Life expectancy in the US has now dropped every year since 2015.

According to the report from the US Centers for Disease Control, Americans at the lower end of the life expectancy range have four things in common (

  • they are poorly educated;
  • their average income is relatively low;
  • they are predominantly black; and
  • they live in the South.
Exhibit 1: US life expectancy (men and women)
Exhibit 1: US life expectancy (men and women)