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- U.S. life expectancy is on an upward trend, despite recent challenges.
- Cohort life expectancy, a more relevant measure, predicts longer lifespans for today's children.
- Advances in healthcare and living standards contribute to ongoing improvements in lifespan.
Contrary to widespread reports, life expectancy in the United States continues to show signs of improvement, writes The Wall Street Journal.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated a rise in life expectancy to 74.8 years for men and 80.2 for women in 2022, albeit lower than pre-pandemic levels. This statistic, known as “life expectancy at birth,” can be misleading, as it does not accurately predict the actual lifespan of individuals born in a particular year.
Eugene Steuerle, a former Treasury Department official and adviser at the Urban Institute, criticizes the use of the term “life expectancy” for this measure. Instead, more accurate estimates from the Social Security Administration suggest that a boy born in 2022 is likely to live 82.2 years and a girl 86.5 years, outstripping the figures reported by the CDC.
Understanding life expectancy calculations
Life expectancy is commonly calculated using the “period life expectancy” method, as seen in the CDC report. This approach, explained by Michel Guillot, a demographer and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, involves creating a synthetic cohort and applying current age-specific death rates across an individual's lifespan. However, this method does not account for future advancements in healthcare or changes in mortality rates, potentially underestimating actual life expectancies.
Cohort life expectancy: a more realistic measure
The “cohort life expectancy” measure considers historical trends in mortality improvements and is thus more aligned with real-life projections. This approach acknowledges the continuous decline in death rates at various ages, factoring in medical advancements, educational progress, and enhanced living standards.
Demographers are optimistic about the trajectory of life expectancy, anticipating further reductions in mortality rates. This outlook is supported by recent medical breakthroughs, such as new treatments for obesity, which could significantly lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Historical perspective supports longer life expectancy
Historical data also supports the trend of increasing life expectancy. Demographers Jim Oeppen and James Vaupel, in their 2002 paper “Broken Limits to Life Expectancy,” demonstrated that predictions of a lifespan ceiling have been consistently disproven. This pattern of surpassing life expectancy estimates continues to hold, suggesting that children born today are likely to live longer than any previous generation.