Global life expectancy rebounds after COVID-19 dip, could go up by 5 years by 2050

Life expectancy projected to rise by 0.16 years per year 2022-2050 — notably lower than 0.27-year increase seen 1990-2019

In India, life expectancy was 60 for men and around 62 for women in 1990. It rose to 68 and 72 before dropping to 66 and 71 for men and women in 2021, respectively. Photo for representation: iStock

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant setback to global life expectancy, a new study suggests the decline may be reversing. Though life expectancy began to improve in 1990, a slump in growth rates was recorded in 2020 after COVID-19 struck, found the research published in The Lancet medical journal.

However, the numbers have since returned to or exceeded 2019 levels from 2022 to 2023.

The effects will likely be noticeable. Life expectancy is expected to increase by 0.16 years annually from 2022 to 2050, which is significantly less than the 0.27 years annual increase noted 1990 to 2019, according to the study.

From 2022 to 2050, life expectancy growth rates in high-income regions, North Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania slowed down significantly compared to previous years.

Global and super-regional life expectancy 1990-2050

Forecasts based on reference scenario. Black vertical line indicates 2022. Source: The Lancet

In India, life expectancy was 60 for men and around 62 for women in 1990. It rose to 68 and 72 before dropping to 66 and 71 for men and women in 2021, respectively.

A Lancet study in April 2024 found that global life expectancy increased by 7.8 years from 1990 to 2019. However, from 2019 to 2021, COVID-19 and related deaths caused a 2.2-year decline. This decline was partially offset by reductions in other diseases, resulting in a net decrease of 1.6 years in global life expectancy.

Life expectancy projected to go up by 5 years

But things are expected to change. By mid-century, global life expectancy is predicted to increase by nearly five years, from 73.6 years in 2022 to 78.1 years in 2050. Additionally, global healthy life expectancy (HALE) is expected to grow by 2.6 years, from 64.8 years in 2022 to 67.4 years in 2050.

In India, men and women are expected to live nearly seven years longer by 2050. The average lifespan is expected to be 76 and 80 in men and women, respectively.

Life expectancy and HALE in India, 1990-2050

The increase in life expectancy is likely due to public health measures that have prevented and improved survival rates for cardiovascular diseases, COVID-19 and various communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional diseases.

“Across locations, the burden of disease will continue to shift from communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional diseases to non-communicable diseases (conditions that are not due to an infection. Examples include heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes),” the study read.

The researchers reached these findings by analysing estimates of years lived with disability, disability-adjusted life-years (DALY) and HALE for 204 countries and territories up to 2050. One DALY represents the loss of the equivalent of one year of full health.

The analysis also included measures of fatal disease burden — mortality, years of life lost (YLL) and life expectancy. YLL measures years lost between the age at which a person dies and the number of years they could have potentially gone on to live, based on the current best life expectancy across the world.

The team used the 2021 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) estimates to project 359 causes of disease burden, both fatal and non-fatal, from 2022 to 2050 for 204 countries and territories. GBD is the most comprehensive assessment of health trends and conditions worldwide.

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