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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Life expectancy to exceed 90 for the first time by 2030

South Korean women will be the first to have an average life expectancy that exceeds 90, according to a study by Imperial College London (ICL) in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Increasing life expectancy expected to continue ©Shutterstock
Increasing life expectancy expected to continue ©Shutterstock

All countries studied are forecast to have higher life expectancies by the end of the decade, with high-income nations having over-65s living longer than ever before, and emerging economies recording fewer premature deaths.

These trends of prolonging life are expected to continue as more countries like South Korea demonstrate good nutrition in childhood, low blood pressure levels, good access to healthcare, and low levels of smoking.

 ICL School of Public Health’s lead researcher, Professor Majid Ezzati, said: “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. I don’t believe we’re anywhere near the upper limit of life expectancy – if there even is one.”

The research involved analysing long-term data on mortality and longevity trends to predict how life expectancy will change in 35 industrialised countries by 2030.

The three countries with the highest life expectancy at birth for men in 2030 are predicted to be South Korea (84.1), Australia (84) and Switzerland (84), and for women, South Korea (90.8), France (88.6) and Japan (88.4).

While the top three countries with the highest life expectancies for 65-year old men in 2030 are forecast to be Canada (22.6 additional years), New Zealand (22.5) and Australia (22.2), with 65-year women prolonging their lives most in South Korea (27.5), France (26.1) and Japan (25.9).

However, despite the differences between male and female longevity, evidence from the study shows that the gap is narrowing, as men increasingly discard unhealthy habits.

"Men traditionally had unhealthier lifestyles, and so shorter life expectancies. They smoked and drank more, and had more road traffic accidents and homicides,” Ezzati continued.

“However as lifestyles become more similar between men and women, so does their longevity.”

The US is expected to have the lowest life expectancy at birth in 2030 among high-income countries, while the UK is predicted to be 21st out of 35 countries for female life expectancy at birth, and 14th for men.

These findings are now raising serious questions about the health and social care that will be needed as the global population continues to age, with a quarter of the UK’s population predicted to be 65 or over within 20 years.

“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,” Ezzati said.

“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.”