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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Historical Life Expectancy Statistics Myths

Since we take infant mortality into account in the statistics we use to determine average life expectancy it throws off the average.  Here is a passionate explanation.
OK, let's get rid of this misnomer that "the average lifespan of humans in 1863 was 39 years old," or "...in 1900 was 43 years old," or whatever other fallacy the emails or statisticians say. I mean, it sounds like if you were 39 in the 1860's you had one foot in the grave, for Pete's sake!
Well, let's clear this mess up once and for all:
In general, folks in the 18th and 19th centuries lived nearly as long as we do today. Yes, it's true. If one would take the time to read journals of the period, or census records of long ago they would find a good majority of adults living to a ripe old age.
So why is this false information being passed around as fact? Because, technically, it is true - the average life span in 1862 may have been 39 years of age. The average lifespan. Now, take into account that, up until the mid 20th century, the infant mortality rate was pretty high. Er...I mean, very high. In some areas nearly one out of every two infants died before their first birthday. And then, from one year old to five years that percentage dropped. From five to 10 it dropped again. And so on and so forth. In other words, the older you got, the chances are you would probably see life into your 60's or 70's or even your 80's, just like today. Of course, death for women during childbirth was quite high, but we, in our modern day, have been able to prevent that situation from happening almost completely.
Yes, people did die of heart attacks, consumption (TB), cancer, pneumonia, and measles. People today die of cancer, heart attacks, and pneumonia as well. But, where 100 years ago they had consumption, we have aids.
Infant mortality screws this up in the present day when we compare our life expectancy to those in other countries where we report infant deaths and enter it into the statistical pool and the other countries do not.

Here is a chart on the expectancies in age from 1850 to present day.

Life Expectancy by Age, 1850–2004

The expectation of life at a specified age is the average number of years that members of a hypothetical group of people of the same age would continue to live if they were subject throughout the remainder of their lives to the same mortality rate.
Age
Calendar period 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
White males
18501 38.3 48.0 40.1 34.0 27.9 21.6 15.6 10.2 5.9
18901 42.50 48.45 40.66 34.05 27.37 20.72 14.73 9.35 5.40
1900–19022 48.23 50.59 42.19 34.88 27.74 20.76 14.35 9.03 5.10
1909–19112 50.23 51.32 42.71 34.87 27.43 20.39 13.98 8.83 5.09
1919–19213 56.34 54.15 45.60 37.65 29.86 22.22 15.25 9.51 5.47
1929–1931 59.12 54.96 46.02 37.54 29.22 21.51 14.72 9.20 5.26
1939–1941 62.81 57.03 47.76 38.80 30.03 21.96 15.05 9.42 5.38
1949–1951 66.31 58.98 49.52 40.29 31.17 22.83 15.76 10.07 5.88
1959–19615 67.55 59.78 50.25 40.98 31.73 23.22 16.01 10.29 5.89
1969–19716 67.94 59.69 50.22 41.07 31.87 23.34 16.07 10.38 6.18
1979–1981 70.82 61.98 52.45 43.31 34.04 25.26 17.56 11.35 6.76
1990 72.7 63.5 54.0 44.7 35.6 26.7 18.7 12.1 7.1
1992 73.2 64.0 54.3 45.1 36.0 27.1 19.1 12.4 7.2
1993 73.1 63.8 54.2 44.9 35.9 27.0 18.9 12.3 7.1
199573.464.154.545.236.127.319.312.57.2
199774.365.055.345.936.727.719.612.77.4
199874.565.255.546.136.827.919.712.87.5
199974.665.355.646.236.928.019.812.97.5
200074.865.455.746.437.128.220.013.07.6
200175.065.656.046.637.328.420.213.27.7
200275.165.756.146.737.428.520.313.37.7
200375.366.056.346.937.628.820.613.58.0
2004775.766.356.747.338.029.120.913.78.1
White females
18501 40.5 47.2 40.2 35.4 29.8 23.5 17.0 11.3 6.4
18901 44.46 49.62 42.03 35.36 28.76 22.09 15.70 10.15 5.75
1900–19022 51.08 52.15 43.77 36.42 29.17 21.89 15.23 9.59 5.50
1909–19112 53.62 53.57 44.88 36.96 29.26 21.74 14.92 9.38 5.35
1919–19213 58.53 55.17 46.46 38.72 30.94 23.12 15.93 9.94 5.70
1929–1931 62.67 57.65 48.52 39.99 31.52 23.41 16.05 9.98 5.63
1939–1941 67.29 60.85 51.38 42.21 33.25 24.72 17.00 10.50 5.88
1949–1951 72.03 64.26 54.56 45.00 35.64 26.76 18.64 11.68 6.59
1959–19615 74.19 66.05 56.29 46.63 37.13 28.08 19.69 12.38 6.67
1969–19716 75.49 66.97 57.24 47.60 38.12 29.11 20.79 13.37 7.59
1979–1981 78.22 69.21 59.44 49.76 40.16 30.96 22.45 14.89 8.65
1990 79.4 70.1 60.3 50.6 41.0 31.6 23.0 15.4 9.0
1992 79.8 70.4 60.6 50.9 41.2 31.9 23.2 15.6 9.2
1993 79.5 70.1 60.3 50.6 41.0 31.7 23.0 15.3 8.9
199579.670.260.450.641.031.723.015.48.9
199779.970.560.750.941.332.023.215.59.1
199880.070.660.851.041.432.023.315.69.1
199979.970.560.650.941.331.923.215.59.0
200080.070.560.750.941.332.023.215.59.1
200180.270.860.951.241.632.323.515.79.3
200280.370.861.051.241.632.423.615.89.3
200380.571.061.251.541.932.623.816.09.6
2004780.871.361.551.842.132.924.116.29.7
All other males4
1900–19022 32.54 41.90 35.11 29.25 23.12 17.34 12.62 8.33 5.12
1909–19112 34.05 40.65 33.46 27.33 21.57 16.21 11.67 8.00 5.53
1919–19213 47.14 45.99 38.36 32.51 26.53 20.47 14.74 9.58 5.83
1929–1931 47.55 44.27 35.95 29.45 23.36 17.92 13.15 8.78 5.42
1939–1941 52.33 48.54 39.74 32.25 25.23 19.18 14.38 10.06 6.46
1949–1951 58.91 52.96 43.73 35.31 27.29 20.25 14.91 10.74 7.07
1959–19615 61.48 55.19 45.78 37.05 28.72 21.28 15.29 10.81 6.87
1969–19716 60.98 53.67 44.37 36.20 28.29 21.24 15.35 10.68 7.57
1979–1981 65.63 57.40 47.87 39.13 30.64 22.92 16.54 11.36 7.22
1990 67.0 58.5 49.0 40.3 31.9 23.9 17.0 11.4 7.0
1992 67.7 59.0 49.6 40.9 32.4 24.5 17.5 11.7 7.2
1993 67.3 58.6 49.2 40.6 32.2 24.3 17.3 11.5 6.9
199567.959.149.640.832.424.617.611.77.0
199769.860.951.442.533.725.518.312.47.9
199867.659.049.540.631.923.917.111.57.1
199967.859.249.640.731.924.017.211.67.2
200068.359.650.041.132.324.317.511.87.4
200168.659.850.341.432.524.417.511.77.3
200268.860.150.541.632.824.617.611.87.5
200369.060.350.741.832.924.817.912.17.9
2004769.861.051.442.533.625.318.312.68.2
All other females4
1900–19022 35.04 43.02 36.89 30.70 24.37 18.67 13.60 9.62 6.48
1909–19112 37.67 42.84 36.14 29.61 23.34 17.65 12.78 9.22 6.05
1919–19213 46.92 44.54 37.15 31.48 25.60 19.76 14.69 10.25 6.58
1929–1931 49.51 45.33 37.22 30.67 24.30 18.60 14.22 10.38 6.90
1939–1941 55.51 50.83 42.14 34.52 27.31 21.04 16.14 11.81 8.00
1949–1951 62.70 56.17 46.77 38.02 29.82 22.67 16.95 12.29 8.15
1959–19615 66.47 59.72 50.07 40.83 32.16 24.31 17.83 12.46 7.66
1969–19716 69.05 61.49 51.85 42.61 33.87 25.97 19.02 13.30 9.01
1979–1981 74.00 65.64 55.88 46.39 37.16 28.59 20.49 14.44 9.17
1990 75.2 66.6 56.8 47.3 38.1 29.2 21.3 14.5 8.8
1992 75.7 67.0 57.2 47.7 38.4 29.6 21.7 14.8 8.9
1993 75.5 66.7 56.9 47.4 38.2 29.5 21.4 14.5 8.7
199575.766.857.047.538.329.621.514.58.7
199776.767.858.048.439.130.322.115.19.4
199874.866.056.246.737.528.821.014.18.7
199974.766.056.246.637.428.720.914.08.6
200075.066.256.446.837.629.021.014.18.7
200175.566.656.847.238.029.321.514.79.2
200275.666.857.047.438.129.521.614.79.2
200376.167.257.447.838.629.922.115.39.8
2004776.567.657.848.238.930.222.315.49.7
1. Massachusetts only; white and nonwhite combined, the latter being about 1% of the total.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States.
2. Original Death Registration States.
3. Death Registration States of 1920.
4. Data for periods 1900–1902, 1929–1931, 1998, 1999,and 2000–2003 relate to blacks only.
5. Alaska and Hawaii included beginning in 1959.
6. Deaths of nonresidents of the United States excluded starting in 1970.
7. Preliminary data.
Sources: Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics; National Vital Statistics Reports, vol 54., no. 19, June 28, 2006. Web: www.dhhs.gov .

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.


Was that as much fun for you as it was for me? Less? Tough! Let's move on.

Now you could think of this as Life Expectancy versus Life Spans, and I would too except that most articles, people, whatever, tend to use the phrases interchangeably, thus ruining the ability to be effectively pendantic and still communicate.
Life expectancy is often confused with life span to the point that they are nearly synonyms; when people hear 'life expectancy was 35 years' they often interpret this as meaning that people of that time or place had short life spans. One such example can be seen in the ''In Search of...'' episode "The Man Who Would Not Die" (About Count of St. Germain) where it is stated "Evidence recently discovered in the British Museum indicates that St. Germain may have well been the long lost third son of Rákóczi born in Transylvania in 1694. If he died in Germany in 1784, he lived 90 years. The average life expectancy in the 18th century was 35 years. Fifty was a ripe old age. ''Ninety''... was forever."
This ignores the fact that the life expectancy generally quoted is the ''at birth'' number which is an ''average'' that includes all the babies that die before their first year of life as well as people that die from disease and war. In fact, there are examples of people living far beyond the life expectancy of their time such as Democritus, Socrates, Roman emperor Augustus, Saint Anthony, Michelangelo, and Ben Franklin.
It can be argued that it is better to compare life expectancies of the period after adulthood to get a better handle on life span. Even during childhood life expectancy can take a huge jump as seen in the Roman Life Expectancy table at the University of Texas where ''at birth'' the life expectancy was 25 but at the age of 5 it jumped to 48. Studies like Plymouth Plantation; "Dead at Forty" and Life Expectancy by Age, 1850–2004 similarly show a dramatic increase in life expectancy once adulthood was reached.
 This guy says life expectancy is declining but likely science will compensate.  This guy talks about life spans lengthening now.

But let's get back to a conclusion.
By studying the graph and comparing men, women, and both genders together one can see that in the 19th century the older people got the more the likely hood that they would see life into their 60's or 70's or even 80's - just like today - and not become old and decrepit by the age of 40, as seems to be insinuated by the silly e-mails being passed around.
Please understand that I am in no way slighting the high death rate of children or of women of any era. That is and never has been my intention in writing this post. The losses of infants, children, and young mothers, just like now, was/is achingly heart wrenching.
It's only my hope to put these so-called historical facts into perspective so when anyone ever receives any of these average lifespan statistics coming through Facebook or through e-mail, that they will understand the intent is more for "shock" value rather than informational.
The older you get the more likely it seems that you will get older still.





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