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 2016 up from 69.4 years in 2000 (Figure 6.1). Since 2000 the largest increases in life expectancy were recorded for Cambodia (11.7 years), Lao PDR, and Nepal (7.7 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 Africa (UN World Population Prospects data, 2017).

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, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines) 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 China, Fiji and Mongolia, outlive men by seven years or more, while this is just over one or two year in Brunei Darussalam and Pakistan. Women in Hong Kong (China) and Japan, have the highest life expectancy at birth at over 86 years compared to 81 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, New Zealand and Singapore (Figure 6.2). Men in Mongolia and Myanmar and men and women in Papua New Guinea are least likely to become 65 years of age – less than 70% for women and 60% for men.

Although higher national income, measured by GDP per capita, is generally associated with longer life expectancy at birth, this does not always hold. Viet Nam has one of the lowest incomes per capita in the region at about USD 6 300, but has a relatively high life expectancy at 86 years on average, by contrast, Brunei Darussalam has a GDP per capita of USD 77 400 and a life expectancy of 76 years on average (Figure 6.3).

Definition and measurement

Life expectancy measures how long, on average, a new-born infant would live if the prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of birth were to stay the same throughout their lifetime. Since the factors that affect life expectancy do not change overnight, variations are best assessed over long periods of time. Countries calculate life expectancy according to methodologies that can vary somewhat, and these can lead to differences of fractions of a year. Some countries base their life expectancies on estimates derived from censuses and surveys, and not on the accurate registration of deaths.

Survival rate to age 65 refers to the percentage of a cohort of new-born infants that would survive to age 65, if subject to current age-specific mortality rates.

Figure 6.1. Life expectancy at birth continues to rise in the Asia/Pacific region
Life expectancy at birth, by sex, 2000 and 2016

OECD Health Statistics 2016; WHO; World Bank, World Development Indicators.


Figure 6.2. More and more people, in Asia reach the age of 65
Survival rate to age 65, by sex, 2016

World Bank, World Development Indicators.


Figure 6.3. Higher national income (as measured by GDP per capita) is generally associated with higher life expectancy at birth

OECD Health Statistics 2016; World Bank, World Development Indicators.


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