UN population report: Global life expectancy falls after Covid-19 years

Global life expectancy, which stood at 72.8 in 2019, “slowed down…due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic” and fell to 71 years in 2021, according to the latest UN population report released on Monday.

The report, ‘World Population Prospects 2022: Summary of Results’, shows that although Covid wiped out some of the gains achieved in life expectancy at birth between 1990 and 2019, it improved by almost nine years during this period. By 2050, it is projected to reach 77.2 years worldwide, it says.

In 2021, the report says, life expectancy was higher for females (73.8 years) than males (68.4 years). “This female survival advantage is observed in virtually all regions and countries of the world. The female advantage in life expectancy at birth ranged from 7 years in Latin America and the Caribbean to 2.9 years in Australia and New Zealand,” it says.

The report shows that the gap in global life expectancy at birth between males and females, which shrank in the last three decades across some regions, increased to 5.4 years in 2021 from 5.2 years in 2019.

Among different regions, life expectancy at birth was the highest in Australia and New Zealand (84.2) and the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa (59.7). It was 67.7 years in Central and South Asia, 72.1 in Northern Africa and Western Asia, 72.2 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 77.2 in Europe and Northern America.

The report also highlights the disparities among countries in life expectancy.

“In 2021, the disparity between the country with the highest and the country with lowest life expectancy at birth stood at 33.4. Among the countries with a population of at least half million in 2022, life expectancy at birth reached close to 85 years or above in 2021 in Australia, the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions of China, and Japan. In contrast, life expectancy at birth is the lowest in Central African Republic, Chad, Lesotho and Nigeria with levels below 54 years in 2021,” the report says.

The report estimates that the gap between countries having the highest and lowest life expectancy is expected to rise further.

“In the coming decades, further increases in survival are expected to narrow but not to eliminate differences in life expectancy across countries and regions… By 2050, life expectancy at birth is projected to reach 77.2 years worldwide, with a gap of 31.8 years remaining between the countries with the lowest and the highest values,” the report says.

“A large portion of the gap between countries with the lowest and highest levels of life expectancy at birth is attributable to disparities in the under-five mortality rate, which represents the probability of dying between birth and age 5… Still, a child born in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021 is 20 times as likely to die before his or her fifth birthday as a child born in Australia and New Zealand,” the report says.

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