Life expectancy

Life expectancy at birth is a general measure of a population’s health status, and is often used to gauge the development of a country’s health. Life expectancy at birth continues to rise in Asia and the Pacific, averaging about 74.2 years in 2019 up from 68.6 years in 2000 (Figure 5.1). Since 2000, the largest increases in life expectancy were recorded for Cambodia (11.4 years), Bhutan (10.9 years) and Timor-Leste (10.5 years). This rapid growth is related to a number of factors, including rising living standards, better nutrition, water and sanitation, increased education and greater access to health services. Nevertheless, despite the significant increase, life expectancy in the Asia/Pacific still lags behind other world regions except Sub-Saharan Africa (United Nations, 2019[1]).

There is large cross-national variation in life expectancy across the region: life expectancy at birth is 80 years or more in East Asia, while this is 70 years or less in some Southern and South-Eastern Asian countries (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Pakistan and Turkmenistan) as well as the island nations of Papua New Guinea and Fiji. On average in the Asia/Pacific region women outlive men by almost five years. Women in Georgia and Kazakhstan outlive men by 8.5 years or more, while this less than one year in Bhutan. Women in Hong Kong, China have the highest life expectancy at birth at over 88 years compared to 82 years for men.

More and more people in Asia become senior citizens. About 90% of population reach the age of 65 in Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Macau, China, the Maldives, New Zealand and Singapore (Figure 5.2). Men in Fiji, Mongolia and Turkmenistan and men and women in Papua New Guinea are least likely to celebrate their own 65th birthday – less than 70% for women and 65% for men.

Higher national income, measured by GDP per capita, is generally associated with longer life expectancy at birth (Figure 5.3). However, the linkages between income and life expectancy are not always that strong. For example, Viet Nam has one of the lowest incomes per capita in the region at about USD 8 650, but has a relatively high life expectancy at 75 years on average. In comparison, Brunei Darussalam has a similar life expectancy at 76 years on average, but its GDP per capita of USD 65 660 is seven times as high as in Viet Nam.


[1] United Nations (2019), UN World Population Prospects 2019,

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