Life expectancy at birth continues to
increase remarkably in OECD countries, reflecting sharp reductions in mortality rates at
all ages. These gains in longevity can be attributed to a number of factors including
rising living standards, improved lifestyle and better education, and greater access to
quality health services. Other factors such as better nutrition, sanitation and housing
also play a role, particularly in countries with emerging economies (OECD, 2004a).
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 (Figure 1.1.1). Japan leads a large group
(including almost two-thirds of the 34 OECD countries) in which 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 and Hungary. However,
while life expectancy in Hungary has increased only modestly since 1960, it has increased
rapidly in Turkey, so that it is quickly approaching the OECD average (OECD and World
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 20 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. South Africa and the Russian
Federation are still characterised by high mortality rates and in terms of length of life,
they are 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. This can be attributed at least partly to the narrowing of differences in
risk-increasing behaviours, such as smoking, between men and women, 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 the highest levels of national income (Figure 1.1.2). There are also notable differences in life expectancy between
countries with similar income per capita. For example, Japan and Israel have higher, and
the United States, Denmark and Hungary have lower life expectancies than would be
predicted by their GDP per capita alone. High rates of mortality for some diseases at
older ages, the legacy of smoking and other factors such as obesity and economic
inequality have been suggested as possible reasons for the United States' poorer outcomes
(Crimmins et al., 2010).
Figure 1.1.3 shows the relationship between life expectancy at birth and
health expenditure per capita across OECD countries. Higher health spending per capita is
generally associated with higher life expectancy at birth, although this relationship
tends to be less pronounced in countries with the highest health spending per capita.
Japan and Spain stand out as having relatively high life expectancies, and the United
States, Denmark and Hungary relatively low life expectancies, given their levels of health
Variations in GDP per capita may
influence both life expectancy and health expenditure
per capita. Other factors beyond national income and total health spending are required to
explain variations in life expectancy across countries.
Definition and comparability
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.
The methodology used to calculate
life expectancy can vary slightly between countries. This 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 OECD countries, using
the unweighted average of life expectancy of men and women.
Information on data for Israel:
|Indicator in PDF
|1.1.1 Life expectancy at birth, 2009 (or nearest year), and
years gained since 1960
|1.1.2 Life expectancy at birth and GDP per capita,
2009 (or nearest year)
|1.1.3 Life expectancy at birth and health spending
per capita, 2009 (or nearest year)