One of the things I've been wondering to myself recently is how life expectancy numbers are calculated, who's calculated them, and, more to the
point, exactly how accurate they are. Could it be that citizens of the United States don't really
live that much longer than they used to?
I've always heard of many figures from older times living easily into their 50's, 60's, and beyond, but maybe this impression of mine wasn't based
on an accurate sample of individuals, or maybe just the product of a selective memory, ignoring all of those who died much earlier.
But supposing that we really don't
live much longer than we did, say, about a hundred years ago. Then, why not?
I've imagined three possibilities:
- Our medical advances aren't all they're cracked up to be when it comes to actually lengthening the common man's life.
- Something is compromising our medical advances, such as toxins in our food, or in the air, or modern-day stressors and negative
psychological/physiological influences, or the ever-increasing amount of radiation we're exposed to from DU explosives. Those being just examples, of
- Some combination of 1 and 2.
Well, alright, I say, but is there anything to suggest that our life expectancies haven't really increased that drastically? Figures? Evidence?
Well, first of all, what are we commonly told the life expectancy of, say, the year 1900 in the United States was? We are told by the CDC that it was
an average of 47.3 years, between both males and females, blacks and whites (Source:
). The National Vital Statistics System reports the average in 1900 as 49.2 (Source:
See table 12A
So I started searching Google for any indication of deception here, and it wasn't long before I found this:
Reader Mary Campbell, an actuarial assistant in New York writes, based on Social Security Administration tables:
There are two types of mortality tables available -- cohort and calendar year. Using the 1900 cohort tables, I find the following probabilities
(and life expectancies) (my table does not include mortality before age 5, as early childhood mortality is difficult to get accurate reports on --
this is true even today, as many babies are reported as stillborn in other countries who would be counted as born alive here, as we've got neonatal
intensive care units to try to help these children survive...):
We usually report life expectancy as additional years to live, but to make it simpler, I will report on total lifespan.
For a 10-year-old girl born in 1900:
The lifespan expectancy is 71.5 years
Median lifespan is 77 years.
She has a 25% probability of reaching age 87.
For a 10-year-old boy born in 1900:
The lifespan expectancy is 65.5 years
Median lifespan is 69 years.
He has a 25% probability of reaching age 80.
For a 10-year-old girl born in 1950:
The lifespan expectancy is 81.3 years
Median lifespan is 85 years.
She has a 25% probability of reaching age 92.
For a 10-year-old boy born in 1950:
The lifespan expectancy is 75.3 years
Median lifespan is 79 years.
He has a 25% probability of reaching age 87.
For a 10-year-old girl born in 2000:
The lifespan expectancy is 85.3 years
Median lifespan is 88 years.
She has a 25% probability of reaching age 95.
For a 10-year-old boy born in 2000:
The lifespan expectancy is 80.4 years
Median lifespan is 84 years.
He has a 25% probability of reaching age 91.
is the source of the above material.
It's important to note, as the above quote does, that the deaths of children under five were not included. I would imagine that with today's medical
advances, infant mortality, and the deaths of children up to around five, is
much lower than it was in 1900. The 1900 figures are also not
based upon stats from all states, but only those contributing stats at this point in time.
And the source used to get the above figures? It's stated as from the Social Security Administration, and yeah, the figures actually are from the
SSA. The actual SSA study can be found here
, and you can find the cohort figures
used on page 175 of that study.
And the difference between the cohort and calendar year figures? As the same site
I've also got those "calendar year" mortality tables you were wondering about, and those are what give the horrible life expectancies. These
are harder to interpret, because they just capture the mortality for each age for the year 1900. That mortality structure does not persist past that
year (okay, maybe for a few more years). So if I plug in a 10-year-old girl to the 1900 calendar year table, I get a lifespan expectancy of 61.1
years! Ten years less than the cohort table! But that's assuming it will be 1900 every year.
In the lifetime of that 10-year-old girl (should she survive the Spanish Flu in adulthood), sulfa drugs will be discovered, as will antibiotics. The
Pure Food and Drug Act will be passed. With manure-spread roads going away with the advent of cars, the water actually becomes cleaner -- less cholera
or dysentery, which killed quite a few of the young and elderly. Vaccination becomes widespread. Public sanitation improves.
So the life expectancies reported are much more pessimistic than actuality, even if you skip over the huge childhood mortality period, which greatly
drops around age 10. . . .
So, it appears that I've learned something new today. With child mortality of age 5 and under taken out of the picture, there's not as much
difference between modern life expectancies and the life expectancies of as much as over a hundred years ago. The life expectancy of 1900, commonly
stated as around 48'ish, was, in reality, more along the lines of 66 years with males and 72 years with females based upon the SSA's own figures.
So now, the skunky question is: why?
Is modern medicine not as relevant to long-lasting life as we've been led to believe? Are our advances being compromised? And, hey, why exactly do we
have to do some digging to realize things weren't so bad back then, anyway, in terms of life expectancy?
Also relating to life expectancy deceptions (but not the above-mentioned one), I've also come across these links:
Lying About Life (Expectancy)
Se Habla B.S.?: The White House lies about Latinos and Social Security.
The Soft Bigotry of Life Expectancy: Different Social Security messages for blacks and Latinos.
[edit on 12-12-2005 by bsbray11]