Social relationships and Life expectancy : Social Development

Social relationships and Life expectancy

Income and Life Expectancy

The most obvious explanation behind the connection between life expectancy and income is the effect of food supply on mortality. Historically, there have been statistically convincing parallels between prices of food and mortality [2]. Higher income also implies better access to housing, education, health services and other items which tend to lead to improved health, lower rates of mortality and higher life expectancy. It is not surprising, therefore, that aggregate income has been a pretty good predictor of life expectancy historically.

If we look at the world today, however, the relationship between income and life expectancy begins to weaken once income reaches a certain level.Audre Biciunaite This is well illustrated in the developed countries example in Figure 2. The Preston curve for developed countries (IMF definition) is much leaner compared to that of total number of countries.

In 2012, a child born in Hong Kong could expect to live for 83.6 years, the longest in the world. The next countries in the longevity list were Italy, Switzerland, Japan and France, all of which have a rather significant variation in income. One of the biggest outliers among developed countries was the US – high per capita GDP but rather low life expectancy. The three Eastern European countries – the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia – recent entrants to the developed countries list, have comparably lower incomes and also lower life expectancy.

Figure 2: Life Expectancy for Developed Countries, 2012

Source: Euromonitor International

Higher Income Does not Always Lead to Higher Life Expectancy

There is one important detail not readily apparent in the above two charts - the definition of a developed country. The formal developed list used here is taken from the IMF, and its definition for a developed country includes three main criteria:

  1. Per capita income level
  2. Export diversification
  3. Degree of integration into the global financial system

Most importantly, income is not the only criteria, and a number of countries that are wealthy but not industrialised are not included in the list. Many mineral resource-rich economies, for example, have a high per capita GDP, often far exceeding the standard US$20, 000 threshold for a country to be considered as ‘developed’, but are not considered developed countries because of export diversification criteria. So the list of developed countries already includes a number of assumptions that do not allow for objective comparison of income and life expectancy.

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