Sunday, April 16, 2017

South Korea: First in Life Expectancy by 2030?

Future Life Expectancy in 35 Industrialized Countries

The original Lancet article; Telegraph, CNN, and WAPO coverage. Best coverage with graphs award to VOX; but the best single graph award goes to The Economist

The study uses 21 forecasting models and past data to come up with a best prediction of future life expectancy. This study, which does not make America look good, was funded in part by the US Environmental Protection agency which had no role in the study design, etc.. None of the forecasting models attempted to predict the behavior of North Korean and American leaders.
There is a 57% probability that life expectancy at birth among South Korean women in 2030 will be higher than 90 years!

This achievement would continue the impressive past gains in South Korean women’s life expectancy. It has increased by on average 3·7 years per decade since 1985, when they were ranked 29th.

The probability that South Korean women will have the highest female life expectancy in 2030 is 45%, with a 27% probability of being in second place.

For men, South Korea is tied with  Australia, and Switzerland for occupying the top three places. There is a 95% probability that men’s life expectancy at birth in these three countries will surpass 80 years in 2030, and a 27%  probability it will surpass 85 years.

The female–male gap in life expectancy is projected to close in most countries. This is consistent with historical data, when there was no female advantage in the distant past. Current gender differences in life expectancy are due to differences in deaths from injuries, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Risk factors (eg, smoking) are different for men and women.

Why is South Korea likely to become the world leader in life expectancy?

Recent gains in life expectancy in South Korea have been largely due to postponement of death from chronic diseases. 

There have been broad-based inclusive improvements in economic status and social capital, education, and improved childhood and adolescent nutrition. South Korea achieved some of the largest gains in adult height over the past century.

They expanded access to primary and secondary health care, and facilitated rapid scale-up of new medical technologies. South Korea has also maintained lower body-mass index and blood pressure than most western countries and lower smoking in women.

In all these developments South Korea has followed closely the model of Japan which currently leads in life expectancy.

Why does the USA perform so poorly? 

The USA, whose life expectancy at birth is already lower than most other high-income countries, is projected to fall further behind. Its 2030 life expectancy at birth may end up similar to the Czech Republic for men, and Croatia and Mexico for women.  

The USA has the highest child and maternal mortality, homicide rate, and body-mass index of any high-income country. It was the first of high-income countries to experience a halt or possibly reversal of increase in height in adulthood (associated with higher longevity).

The USA is also the only country in the OECD without universal health coverage, and has the largest share of unmet health-care needs due to financial costs.

The problem with the USA is that while its richest citizens are increasing their life expectancy, the poorest and now even some of the middle class are stagnating or even declining in their life expectancy.

As one blog points out Asian American women in several US states already have life expectancy beyond 90!  "Asian-Americans outlive whites by an average of nearly 8 years."

"Nearly 90% of the Asian-white life expectancy gap is attributable to the fact that Asians tend to outlive whites regardless of the cause of death. The causes that contribute the most to the gap are heart disease (24%) and cancers (18%). Men contribute somewhat more to the gap than women do (55% versus 45%), primarily because Asian-white differences in mortality are greater among men than among women with respect to suicide, traffic accidents, and accidental poisoning."

The bottom line: While the major problem for the USA is increasing inequality in income and related health outcomes, we also have differences among Non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans. Hispanics outlive non Hispanic Whites by 2 years! The life expectancy of Non-Hispanic Whites appears to be more threatened than other groups. And we have a president that is exploiting racial tensions.


  1. That is sad, Jack. Not about the South Koreans havong better outcomes, but about the US backsliding. If we broke it down by regions, we would probably see some differences. What I would expect is that areas which had experienced economic difficulties would have worse life expectancies, but there might be other factors as well.

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  3. Living into the 90's. See it a lot. Be careful what you wish for.

    1. I have two aunts who lived into their nineties. One was able to drive and live alone until the last year of her life. The other is still living but she had to move in with her daughter and lived with her for about three years, she is now in a nursing home. So far it looks like it is hard to avoid that last year in a nursing home.

  4. Our health care system, especially the horrible one the Republicans are trying to replace Obamacare with, shows a lack of respect got life. It's a Darwinian culling of the poor and powerless.

  5. Sorry, folks: if Kim Jong-in and Trumplethinskin keep playing "who is the meanest kid on the blockhead," there will be NO life expectancy in South Korea much sooner than 2030.