The things you can do and learn online for General Paper (and Project Work).

50 facts: Life expectancy

It’s been a while since I really blogged, and inspired by David Plotz’s blogging of the Bible at Slate, I’ve decided to start blogging about Jessica Williams’ book, 50 facts that should change the world, chapter by chapter. For every such entry, I shall include related content on Singapore.

So today’s fact is: The average Japanese woman can expect to live to be 84. The average Botswanan will reach just 39.

Life expectancy at birth is defined as ‘the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of age-specific mortality rates at the time of birth were to stay the same throughout the child’s life’ (Source).

Like most theoretical concepts, life expectancy can get a bit complicated. According to Wikipedia,

Life expectancy is heavily dependent on the criteria used to select the group. In countries with high infant mortality rates, the life expectancy at birth is highly sensitive to the rate of death in the first few years of life. In these cases, another measure such as life expectancy at age 5 (e5) can be used to exclude the effects of infant mortality to reveal the effects of other causes of death. Typically, life expectancy at birth is specified. If the data on infant mortality rates are suspect for some reason, such as the underreporting of births or of infant deaths, then life expectancy at age 1 (e1) or age 2 (e2) might also be used.

Googling for ‘life expectancy’ brought up quite a few links to life expectancy calculators so you can figure out roughly how many years are left in you:

I suppose these tools are spin-offs from what insurance companies use to calculate our life insurance premiums. I’m not really in the mood now, but maybe one day when I’m feeling particularly morbid or just too happy, I might check them out myself and key in my data. In Singapore, the life expectancy in 2000 was 77.2, which makes us no. 17 on the global ranking. We share the same spot with the UK and Finland, and the US is a little worse off than us at 76.2, no. 19.

According to Williams, Aids is the most significant reason for Botswana’s poor showing in the ranking. It ranks 97. (Sierra Leone is at the bottom of the list at no. 137, life expectancy 34.9.) Williams’ figures are different from the UN data used in the ranking because she was referring to the average woman, whereas the UN data is for a newborn based on both sexes and the mortality rates in 2000. HIV infection statistics for Singapore are available on this page by the Ministry of Health.

Other factors that contribute to a low life expectancy in the developing world are infant mortality, a clear indicator of a country’s public health, and poverty. According to this CNN report posted in May this year, ‘an estimated 2 million babies die within their first 24 hours each year worldwide and the United States has the second worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world.’ Singapore’s infant mortality rate is 2.1 per 1000 live births in 2005. According to this New York Times article, we came up tops in terms of a low infant mortality rate, but it seems the writer was using data from 2002.

In case you’re wondering how Singapore is doing in terms of per capita GDP, using PPP-dollar, Globalis tells me that we were ranked 22 in 2002 with 24,040. Sierra Leone, still suffering from the effects of civil war in the 90s, took the last position again. Luxembourg, for which the service industry provides the majority of economic output, was first.

Expect the next 50-facts post some time after marking season, maybe November.


Comments on: "50 facts: Life expectancy" (3)

  1. Lewis Qie said:

    The way this fact is put in the book suggests an illiteracy with regard to statistics.

    “the average Japanese can expect to live to be 84”? Not so. The average Japanese woman can expect to live to be about 90. She is already 41. Two of the women she went to school with have died, one in a car crash, one of cancer. Your life expectancy, then lengthens the longer you live. If a Japanese woman is 95, she can’t expect to live for minus 11 years.

    It’s perhaps a trifling objection, yes, but it should serve as a red flag as the opening item in a book that relies to a very great extent on the author’s use and interpretation of statistics.

    Infant mortality is, as you say a complicating factor in calculating life expectancy statistics, and especially when comparing across developed nations. For reasons having to do with the need to appease Christian fundamentalists, the US records in its infant mortality statistics every live birth that subsequently dies, while most other developed require of the live birth a minimum birth weight in order that it later feature in the statistics.

  2. John Seeley said:

    What I was looking foe was if we calculated the between 850000 to 1000000 abortions per year in America. How would it affect our life expectancy

  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of legalizing drugs?

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