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Life Expectancy: progress from 1990 to 2013

on Sun, 12/21/2014 - 19:48

Life expectancy is a summary measure of population health. It is the number of years that in average a population at a specific age would expect to live exposed to specific mortality conditions, generally defined by the place where it lives. The most commonly used life expectancy is life expectancy at birth or at age zero, which indicates the number of years that a new born would expect to live exposed to mortality conditions of the place where he or she born from the period till reach death. There is life expectancy for specific ages, sexes of the people living in a defined place. 

From the public health perspective, life expectancy is an indicator of living conditions including social determinants of health, environment conditions such as access to clear water and sanitation, accessibility to health care services and treaments, public health advances in terms of prevention and control of diseases, reproductive health interventions, infant and child health programs including vaccination, health protection to adoloescents and adult women and men, and health care interventions to elderly people. 

A recent study conducted by an international consortium of researchers led by the Institute of health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington and published in The Lancet on December 18, 2014, provided new estimates of life expectancy in 188 countries of the world desegregated by age groups and sex.

This post will presents key findings and provide some data visualizations that will help you learning about 1) the geographic distribution life expectancy and rank of countries based on life expectancy; 2) life expectancy by specific age and sex, and its trend over time; and 3) identify regions and countries which population expect to live less years today than two decades ago. 


Globally, life expectancy at birth for both sexes increased 6.2 years from 65.3 years in 1990 to 71.5 years in 2013, and women made slightly greater gains than men. Female life expectancy at birth increased by 6.6 years (from 67.7 years in 1990 to 74.3 years in 2013) and male life expectancy by 5.8 years (from 63 years to 68.8 in 2013). Data visualization below shows the life expectancy by age and sex and its trend over time allowing you to compare a country with a specific region. 

In spite of the great progress in life expectancy worldwide, the gap across countries increased in 1.8 years from 33.8 years in 1990 to 35.6 in 2013.  In 2013 Andorra (83.0 years), Japan (83.3 years), Iceland (82.8 years), Switzerland (82.7 years) and Cyprus (82.2 years) are the top five countries which both sexes population will live longer. The bottom five countries are Lesotho (48.3 years), Swaziland (50.7 years), Guinea-Bissau and Central African Republic (52.8 years), and Zimbabwe (56.0 years).  

Explore the geographic distribution of life expectancy by year, age group and sex using the data visualization bellow. 

While most of the regions and countries gain in longevity, Southern Sub-Saharan Africa decreased 5.1 years of life expectancy at birth in both sexes from 64.2 years in 1990 to 59.1 years in 2013. Other regions have also decreased life expectancy at other ages, which you are able to see by selecting age groups different to less that 1 year in the data visualization below.

The data visualization below also shows there are eleven countries that experienced a reduction in their life expectancy at birth from 1990 to 2013, they are Paraguay, Belize, Belarus, Botswana, Guyana, Namibia, South Africa, Gabon, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho. Use the data visualization to find out those regions and countries that decreased life expectancy at specific ages and sex. 

The most critical and extreme situation is presented in Lesotho, where a new born will live in average almost 13 years less than its parrents. 

There is a variety of critical situations that you will discover using the below data visualization and by selecting other age groups and sexes.

The casues of deaths that have driven or determined the progress in life expectancy will be discussed further in a separated blog post. In general, the increase in lifespan has been determined by reductions in mortality from cardiovascular diseases and cancers in high-income countries, and reductions in child deaths from diarrhoea, lower respiratory infections, and neonatal causes in low-income countries. HIV/AIDS played a key role reducing life expectancy in southern sub-Saharan Africa.  


Great progress in population health has been experienced in the last decades, meaning people are living a longer and healthy life than generations before throughout the world.  The gap across countries has increased and persist a significant number of countries with very low life expectancy at birth and at other specific ages.

Public health community, international and local organizations and governments have a hard work to do mainly in those critical countries and more vulnerable groups of population to overcome their current situation, improving the population health conditions and create a better and healthier world to live. 


  1. Naghavi M, Murray C.J.L, Lopez, A, et al. Global, regional, and national age–sex specific all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 240 causes of death, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The Lancet. Publish Online: 17 December 2014. DOI:  
  2. Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 (GBD 2013) Age-Sex Specific All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality 1990-2013. Seattle, United States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2014. Data set available online at IHME GHDx   

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Life Expectancy by Age

This data visualization allows you to explore trends of life expectancy by age in a selected country and sex from 1990 to 2013. By default, Cuba and both sexes are selected but you are able to make your own selection among 188 countries. Check your country to se how lefe expectancy has evolved from 1990 to 2013.




Mortality in the World 1970-2010

This article aims to highlight the magnitude, distribution and trends of mortality in the World. To cover this subject, mortality or death rate, measured as number of deaths per 100,000 population is the health metric used. The data is available online at Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2010) Mortality Results 1970-2010.




Fewer people dying but more live with disability
This article highlights the progress of life expectancy in the World in the last forty years and how this positive impact is bringing a new public health issue, an increase in the number of years that people are living with disabilities. An interactive data visualization using three key indicators estimated by GBS 2010: 1) Life Expectancy; 2) Healthy-Adjusted Life Expectancy; and 3) Healthy Years Lost, defined as the difference between health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) and life expectancy is featured to encourage exploration and analysis from readers.



Jamie Carson's picture

Amazing work, amazing web site. I see a lot of data visualization sites, but yours inspires me to drop you a note. These data are of enormous value to financial planners, and an eye-opener in terms of inequality on this planet.
Felicidades otra vez,

martiner's picture

Thanks Jamie,

I appreciate very much your comment. I'm glad these data are of value for your work.


johnb6174's picture

Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can't wait to read lots of your posts.

hi's picture

helpful to AP human geography students

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