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How Long You Live Depends on Your Nation’s Wealth

The global rich-poor gap is evident in a nearly two-decade difference in life expectancy between richer and poorer economies, a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed.

In high-income nations, average life expectancy is 80.8 years, in contrast to low-income nations where the average is 62.7 years – an 18.1-year difference.

Lower-middle income nations have an average life expectancy of 67.9 years, while in upper-middle income countries it is 75.2 years.

Almost one in three children in lower-income economies die by the age of 5, mostly from preventable diseases, a significant factor in the overall lower average life expectancy.

The report used World Bank definitions for national income level:

  • Low income: $995 or less gross national income per capita
  • Lower-middle income: between $996 and $3,895
  • Upper-middle income: between $3,896 and $12,055
  • High income: $12,056 or more

Gender differences in life expectancy are also impacted by economic conditions.

Globally, women live an average of 74.2 years and men 69.8 years – a 4.4-year difference. That divide narrows significantly in low-income nations.

“Maternal mortality ratios are 29 times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries,” the report said. “In resource-poor settings, fertility rates are higher and the risks of dying in labor greater, so the lifetime risk of maternal death is greatly amplified; in low-income countries, one woman out of 41 dies from maternal causes.”

By comparison, deaths from maternal causes are 1 in 130 for lower-middle income, 1 in 970 for upper-middle income and 1 in 3,300 in high-income nations.

Lack of access to health services is a key factor in these trends, as low-income nations have notably fewer doctors, nurses and midwives per population than higher-income economies.

More than 90 percent of low-income nations have fewer than 10 medical doctors and fewer than 40 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people.

By comparison, less than 5 percent of high-income nations had this few medical doctors and just under 20 percent this few nurses and midwives.

“We must be relentless in our pursuit of solutions to such human tragedies, and our responses must be informed by robust, reliable data on health risks, access to services and health outcomes,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, stated in the report’s preface. “Behind every number in these pages is a person, a family, a community and a nation.”

The full report is available here.