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In 1980, among the full set of comparison countries used here,2 values of life expectancy at age 50 extended from 24.2 for Hungary and the Czech Republic to 29.6 for Iceland, and the United States ranked 10th out of 33 with an e50 of 28.0 (Human Mortality Database, see [accessed November 13, 2009]).3 By 2006, the level of e50 for the United States had risen to 31.3, a gain of 3.3 years. Over the same period, however, other countries experienced an even faster pace of improvement. Japan, with an e50 of 34.4 in 2006, had moved into the top position by gaining 5.5 years since 1980. As a result of its relatively poor performance during these years, the position of the United States fell to 20th among the 34 comparison countries with data available in 2006. In fact, only Taiwan, Denmark, and the 12 countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union fared worse than the United States at that time.

Figure 12-2 illustrates the change in international ranking for e50 among a more limited collection of comparison countries (excluding countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where mortality trends have been consistently less favorable than in the United States since 1980). The figure shows that, whereas until 1994 the United States was positioned among the upper 50 percent of the countries (not weighted by population size) with a rank that fluctuated between 9th and 12th, it lost position rapidly thereafter, falling to 13th in 1996, 14th in 1997, 18th in 1999, and 20th in 2005 and 2006 (just above Denmark in the list of 21 countries with data available for the most recent years).4 Although the difference in e50 between the United States and the highest-ranking country was just 1.6 years in 1980, it grew to 2.2 years in 1995, 3.0 years in 2000, and 3.1 years in 2006.

Like the geographic divergence in the United States, the loss of position by the country in these rankings has been much more severe for women than for men. From 1980 to 2006, the ranking of U.S. women in terms of e50 fell from 11th to 20th (out of 21 countries) and for U.S. men from 10th to 15th.5 Among all 21 countries on Figure 12-2, only Danish women had shorter lives, on average, after age 50 than U.S. women in 2006. Furthermore, the gap that separates the United States from other high-income countries is growing: whereas in 1980 women in the United States lived an average of


The set includes Western Europe (see the notes to Table 12-1) and other high-income countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Taiwan), plus certain countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, East Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine).


The country with the highest life expectancy is ranked first.


See the notes to Table 12-1 for a list of the countries included in the comparison.


If we include Taiwan and countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in this comparison, the ranking of U.S. women fell from 11th (out of 33) to 22nd (out of 34) and for U.S. men from 10th to 15th.

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