The light green line, for example, represents the life expectancy for children who had reached age 10. Until the mid-19th century a newborn could expect to live around 40 years.
On average the predictions have been broken within 5 years after publication. The following visualization shows the estimates and UN-projections of the remaining expected life years for 10-year-olds.
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The horizontal black lines extending from the publication denote the prediction in each publication of the asserted ceiling on life expectancy attainable by humans and the year in which the study was published. Dublin published a study in 1928 that asserted that the maximum life expectancy possible was less than 65 while at the same time life expectancy in New Zealand was already over 65. The predictions of maximum life expectancy were proven wrong again and again over the course of the last century.
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It was caused by a very large global influenza epidemic, the Spanish flu pandemic. I have studied the impact of this pandemic and especially it’s differential impact for different age-groups – the life expectancy of older people barely changed as the chart shows – in a text on the this pandemic here. Let’s see how life expectancy has improved without taking the massive improvements in child mortality into account. Child mortality is defined as the share of children who die before reaching their 5th birthday.
We therefore have to look at the life expectancy of a five-year-old to see how mortality changed without taking child mortality into account. A common criticism of the statement that life expectancy doubled is that this “only happened because child mortality declined”. I think that, even if this were true, it would be one of humanity’s greatest achievements, but in fact, this assertion is also just plain wrong. Mortality rates declined, and consequently life expectancy increased, for all age groups. The rainbow-colored lines show how long a person could expect to live once they had reached that given, older, age.
The rise – best visible anemia on the Map-view – shows that the increasing life expectancy is not only due to declining child mortality, but that mortality rates at higher ages also declined globally. ‘Population survival curves’ show the share of people who are expected to survive various successive ages. The chart provides an example, plotting survival curves for individuals born at different points in time, using cohort life tables from England and Wales. A second striking feature of this visualization is the big decline of life expectancy in 1918.