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Life Expectancy in the U.S. and China

Better nutrition, decreased smoking, safer working conditions, hygiene and healthcare have helped lengthen lives globally—but these gains are not distributed evenly.
January 28, 2021
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Liang Huguo, 72, finishing the 2018 Tengchong Marathon in China. Photo: Liang Yuan

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Better nutrition, decreased smoking, safer working conditions, hygiene and healthcare have helped lengthen lives globally. Average life expectancy has risen worldwide from 69.9 years in 2008 to 72.6 years in 2018. But these averages hide a sad truth: these gains are not distributed evenly. In the U.S., life expectancy hit a plateau in 2014 at 78.8 years. In China, there has been a steady rise since 1999, hitting 76.7 years in 2018.

But even within country borders, average life expectancy can vary widely. Access to better education, jobs, healthcare and government support programs has an obvious impact. In 2015, the disparity was 6.6 years among U.S. states while the gap between regions in China was over 12 years. In the U.S. the lowest life expectancies are in the South and Southern Appalachian Mountains. In China, Western areas have lower life expectancies. The maps below reflect life expectancy at birth. On average, life expectancy in Japan is the longest, at 83.8 years in 2015.

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