Global Life Expectancy Up By 6 Years Since 1990

The largest gains in life expectancy have come in developing countries.
U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office (PIO)

The average girl born in 2012 can expect to live to the age of 72; the average boy to 68, according to statistics released today (May 15) by the World Health Organization. People just about everywhere are living longer, and the average life expectancy has gone up by six years since 1990. In low income countries, the gains have been higher, with life expectancy up an average of nine years.

This is primarily because children have a lower chance of dying before the age of five in these countries, due in part to advances in tackling childhood diseases. “But there is still a major rich-poor divide: people in high-income countries continue to have a much better chance of living longer than people in low-income countries,” said Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

For example, a boy born in 2012 in a high-income country can expect to live to the age of around 76, which is 16 years longer than a boy born in a low-income country, WHO noted. For girls, the gap is wider–19 years separates life expectancy in high-income (82 years) and low-income countries (63 years).


Here are some other interesting stats from the report. According to WHO:

  • The top six countries where life expectancy increased the most were Liberia, which saw a 20-year increase (from 42 years in 1990 to 62 years in 2012) followed by Ethiopia (from 45 to 64 years), Maldives (58 to 77 years), Cambodia (54 to 72 years), Timor-Leste (50 to 66 years), and Rwanda (48 to 65 years).
  • Life expectancy for both men and women is less than 55 years in nine sub-Saharan African countries – Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
  • In rich countries, the leading causes of death are noncommunicable diseases (like cancer and stroke) and injuries. In poor countries, infectious diseases are still a leading cause of death.
  • About 44 million (6.7 percent) of the world’s children younger than age five were overweight or obese in 2012.

In case you’re interested, here’s a Popular Science story about Americans living longer, and whether or not those extra years are healthy ones.