Understanding Life Expectancy

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Life expectancy is the average lifespan for an individual. Worldwide, the average life expectancy is about 71 years for people born between 2010 and 2015, according to a United Nations publication. However, your personal life expectancy is determined by when and where you were born as well as age and gender.

Life expectancy figures are collected by national health systems and by projecting current mortality statistics. Life expectancy is generally given for a person born this year. For example, according to the CDC, anyone born in 2006 could expect to live about 77.5 years.

Life Expectancy at Birth

The life expectancies that you usually read about are life expectancies at birth. The current U.S. life expectancy is 77.5 years. This number takes the current rates of mortality at each age and figures out where the average is.

Deaths at young ages impact life expectancy averages much more than older deaths. If a person dies at 18, that is 59.5 years lost. A person dying at age 70 only loses 7.5 years.

If you can reduce your risk of some of the most common causes of death of young people, such as car accidents, you can significantly beat the average life expectancy.

Life Expectancy at 65

As people age, their life expectancy actually increases. Each year you live means that you have survived all sorts of potential causes of death.

If you were born in 1942, your life expectancy at birth was about 68 years. But the good news is that you didn't die of infectious childhood diseases, car accidents, or anything else. The average 65-year-old today can expect to live another 18.4 years.

So your life expectancy now is 5.9 years longer than the current life expectancy figure (which is for people born in 2006), or 83.4 years.

Life Expectancy at 75

The news just keeps getting better—if you make it to 75 your life expectancy increases to 86.8. You gain another 3.4 years. That means the average 75-year-old will live 9.3 years longer than the average child born in 2006.

Sound like funny math? It's not, but it is one of those weird things that statistics do. So, don't feel like your days are numbered when you outlive the current average life expectancy at birth. Only the oldest person in the world can outlive his or her own life expectancy. For the rest of us, there is always someone older.

Changes Over Time
Life Expectancy by Age Birth 65 75
Born in 1950 68.2 78.9 No data
Born in 1980 73.7 81.4 85.4
Born in 2010 78.7 84.1 87.1

Gender Differences

Men tend to die younger, bringing down the averages. The average 65-year-old woman today can expect to live another 19.8 years, or a total of 84.8 years. If she makes it to 75, she can expect an additional 12.6 years, or a total of 87.6 years.

Men don't do quite as well, but the difference shrinks as they age. A 75-year-old man can expect, on average, another 10.5 years, or 85.5 years total. Remember, these are averages—you can beat them by eating right, staying active, staying involved, and exercising your brain.

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