Expecting life

In 1992, when I was Dean of the University of Hull Law School, my technology officer was trying to persuade me to allow him to put up a web page for the School. I am ashamed to say that I had never even heard of the World Wide Web (though I was already a dedicated email user), but I was eager to be briefed. He demonstrated its value to me by taking me to the CIA website and showing me the real wealth of information available there about global matters. That would still be a good demonstration: don’t be put off by the site ownership, this is genuinely a site of real interest.

One of the really interesting tables the CIA publishes annually is the one setting out comparative life expectancy around the world. It makes for fascinating reading. The country with the longest life expectancy at birth – of 89 years – is Monaco (maybe not surprising, since the pampered royal family must account for a significant proportion of the population). We then have Macau, San Marino and Andorra, also small. But who would you think comes next: Sweden, Switzerland, Austria? No, not at all. Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. In fact, Europe (Scandinavian or otherwise) doesn’t particularly shine. By the way Ireland, sandwiched between Norway and Jordan at number 26, has a life expectancy of 80. We do better than the UK, Austria and Germany – and much better than Finland – though not as well as France, Spain and Sweden.

But here’s the thing we should really take note of. The bottom 52 of the table are, with only one exception (Haiti), African countries, with life expectancies ranging from 63 to 38. And no African country comes higher in the list than that (No 175), not even South Africa (which actually doesn’t even do very well by African standards). The table demonstrates what an unequal world this is, and how totally ineffective all our efforts have been to make it otherwise. For all of us, it should be a table of shame.

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2 Comments on “Expecting life”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    If you look at, say, GNP per capita its much the same story: sub-Saharan Africa is way below everyone else with one or two other countries like Haiti thrown in.
    What is also notable is that life expectancy has fallen in quite a few of these countries due to AIDS.
    Paul Collier’s book The bottom billion discusses how there is basically a billion seriously poor people in the world (making <$2 daily say) and almost all are in sub-Saharan Africa.

  2. Brian Says:

    This short youtube clip illustrates the trends you mentioned perfectly – it is well worth watching for the ease with which it presents the data.


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