NOMIS researcher Wolfgang Fengler pens Brookings Institution blog, “Can higher mortality be a sign of progress?”

January 16, 2019

On January 1, 2019, as we entered the last year of the decade, over 395,000 babies were born, more than half in Asia and around a third in Africa. What will their life look like? How long will they live?

In many ways, these children can consider themselves lucky. While global news headlines can make us believe that everything is getting worse, the opposite is true, especially if you project these children’s lives forward. They will be healthier, wealthier, and better educated than their peers in previous generations. They will also live longer. A girl born today can expect to live 80 years (the world average for girls). In South Korea or Japan, the expectation is 97 years, which means a girl born there today will most likely make it comfortably into the next century (see where you can also check out your own life expectancy).

Never has life expectancy been so high, which means more and older people. The increase in life expectancy is mostly because of a sharp decline in child mortality, but also thanks to improvements in longevity. That means more people alive at any point in time: Even though the number of children has stabilized at around 2 billion, the world’s population is still growing rapidly thanks to a swelling number of adults and elderly.

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Wolfgang Fengler is lead economist in Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation at the World Bank in Vienna, and volunteer at the World Data Lab.