Background: New technological breakthroughs in biomedicine should have made it easier for countries to improve life expectancy at birth (LEB). This paper measures the pace of improvement in the decadal gains of LEB, for the last 60-years adjusting for each country’s starting point of LEB.
Methods: LEB increases over the next 10-years for 139 countries between 1950 and 2009 were regressed on LEB, GDP, total fertility rate, population density, CO2 emissions, and HIV prevalence using country-specific fixed effects and time-dummies. Analysis grouped countries into one-of-four strata: LEB < 51, 51 ≤ LEB < 61, 61 ≤ LEB < 71, and LEB ≥ 71.
Results: The rate of increase of LEB has fallen consistently since 1950 across all strata. Results hold in unadjusted analysis and in the regression-adjusted analysis. LEB decadal gains fell from 4.80 (IQR: 2.98–6.20) years in the 1950s to 2.39 (IQR:1.80–2.80) years in the 2000s for the healthiest countries (LEB ≥ 71). For countries with the lowest LEB (LEB < 51), decadal gains fell from 7.38 (IQR:4.83–9.25) years in the 1950s to negative 6.82 (IQR: -12.95--1.05) years in the 2000s. Multivariate analysis controlling for HIV prevalence, GDP, and other covariates shows a negative effect of time on LEB decadal gains among all strata.
Conclusions: Contrary to the expectation that advances in health technology and spending would hasten improvements in LEB, we found that the pace-of-growth of LEB has slowed around the world.