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OECD Factbook 2011-2012: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics
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branch Health
branch Health Status
    branch Life expectancy

Life expectancy at birth remains one of the most frequently used health status indicators. Gains in life expectancy at birth in OECD countries in recent decades can be attributed to a number of factors, including rising living standards, improved lifestyle and better education, as well as greater access to quality health services. Other factors, such as better nutrition, sanitation and housing also played a role, particularly in countries with emerging economies.

Definition

Life expectancy at birth measures how long on average a newborn can expect to live, if current death rates do not change. However, the actual age-specific death rate of any particular birth cohort cannot be known in advance. If rates are falling (as has been the case over the past decades in OECD countries), actual life spans will be higher than life expectancy calculated using current death rates.

Comparability

The methodology used to calculate life expectancy can vary slightly between countries. These differences can affect the comparability of reported life expectancy estimates, as different methods can change a country's estimates by a fraction of a year. Life expectancy at birth for the total population is calculated by the OECD Secretariat for all countries, using the unweighted average of life expectancy of men and women.

Overview

On average across OECD countries, life expectancy at birth for the whole population reached 79.5 years in 2009, a gain of more than 11 years since 1960. Japan leads a large group (including almost two-thirds of OECD countries) in which the total life expectancy at birth is currently 80 years or more. A second group, including Portugal, the United States and a number of central and eastern European countries have a life expectancy of between 75 and 80 years. Life expectancy among OECD countries was lowest in Turkey, followed by Hungary. However, while life expectancy in Hungary has increased only modestly since 1960, it has increased sharply in Turkey, and is rapidly catching up with the OECD average.

Nearly all OECD and emerging countries have experienced large gains in life expectancy over the past 50 years. Life expectancy at birth in Korea, Turkey and Chile has increased by twenty years or more over the period 1960-2009. Mexico, Portugal and Japan, as well as emerging countries such as Indonesia, China, India and Brazil also show strong gains. Other countries such as the Russian Federation and South Africa are still characterised by high mortality rates and by a length of life well below the OECD average.

The gender gap in life expectancy stood at 5.5 years on average across OECD countries in 2009, with life expectancy reaching 76.7 years among men and 82.2 years among women. While the gender gap in life expectancy increased substantially in many countries during the 1960s and the 1970s, it narrowed during the past 30 years, reflecting higher gains in life expectancy among men than among women in most OECD countries. This can be attributed at least partly to the narrowing of differences in risk-increasing behaviours between men and women, such as smoking, accompanied by sharp reductions in mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases among men.

Higher national income (as measured by GDP per capita) is generally associated with higher life expectancy at birth, although the relationship is less pronounced at higher levels of national income.

 

Sources

Further information
Analytical publications
Statistical publications
Online databases
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Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Tables
Life expectancy at birth: total
    Table in Excel
Life expectancy at birth: men
    Table in Excel
Life expectancy at birth: women
    Table in Excel

Figures
Life expectancy at birth: total Figure in Excel
Life expectancy at birth:
total
Life expectancy at birth: men Figure in Excel
Life expectancy at birth: men
Life expectancy at birth: women Figure in Excel
Life expectancy at birth:
women