New research has revealed that the average life expectancy is set to increase in many countries by 2030 and, in South Korea specifically, will improve so much as to exceed an average of 90 years. The study analysed long-term data on mortality and longevity trends to predict how life expectancy will change from now until 2030.
The study was led by scientists from Imperial College London in collaboration with the World Health Organization. Looking at 35 industrialised nations, the team highlighted South Korea as a peak for life expectancy; predicting expectancy from birth, they estimate that a baby girl born in South Korea in 2030 will expect to live 90.8 years, while men are expected to live to be 84.1 years.
Scientists once thought an average life expectancy of over 90 was impossible, according to Professor Majid Ezzati, lead researcher from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London:
“We repeatedly hear that improvements in human longevity are about to come to an end. Many people used to believe that 90 years is the upper limit for life expectancy, but this research suggests we will break the 90-year barrier,” he said.
“I don’t believe we’re anywhere near the upper limit of life expectancy -if there even is one.”
Ezzati explained that the high expectancy for South Korean lives was likely due to a number of factors including good nutrition in childhood, low blood pressure, low levels of smoking, good access to healthcare, and uptake of new medical knowledge and technologies. It is likely that, by 2030, South Korea will have the highest life expectancy in the world.
Elsewhere, French women and Swiss men are predicted to lead expectancies in Europe, with 88.6 years and nearly 84 years respectively. The UK is expected to average 85.3 years for women (21st in the table of countries studied) and 82.5 years for men (14th in the table).
The study included both high-income countries and emerging economies. Among the high-income countries, the US was found to have the lowest predicted life expectancy at birth. Averaging similar to Croatia and Mexico, the researchers suggested this was due to a number of factors including a lack of universal healthcare, as well as the highest child and maternal mortality rate, homicide rate and obesity among high-income countries.
Notably, the research also suggests that the life expectancy gap between men and women is closing and that a large factor in increasing expectancy is due in no small part to older sections of the population living longer than before.
Such increased longevity is not without issue, however, as countries may not be prepared to support an ageing population.
“The fact that we will continue to live longer means we need to think about strengthening the health and social care systems to support an ageing population with multiple health needs,” added Ezzati.
“This is the opposite of what is being done in the era of austerity. We also need to think about whether current pension systems will support us, or if we need to consider working into later life.”