July 25, 2003

Crude Life Expectancy Estimates

For the world for the last 2000 years:

Source: Maddison (2001), pp. 29-30. Roman Egypt from 33-258 is taken as a proxy for the world in 100. Maddison takes his estimates for Egypt form Bagnall and Freier (1994).

R.S. Bagnall and B.W. Frier (1994), The Demography of Roman Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Angus Maddison (2001), The World Economy in Millennial Perspective (Paris: OECD).

For nations since 1800:

Source: Maddison (2001), pp. 29-30.

Angus Maddison (2001), The World Economy in Millennial Perspective (Paris: OECD).

Posted by DeLong at July 25, 2003 05:08 PM | TrackBack

Comments

When in Paris last April, I was taking a shortcut through Pere Lachaise and saw a modern marker, a circle of stainless steel with a wave-like form in the center of it, a sort of ying-yang figure, the bottom half of it blue, on a grey, inclined stone. I wandered closer and saw it was that of Fernand Braudel. Delighted, I pointed it out to two elderly women who had probably come to wash the grave of a husband or father, given that they were carrying a bucket and some detergent. They smiled, listened patiently as I gushed at what a great historian Braudel was, and how he had helped point history toward consideration of place and trend, and they asked, "Are you a relative?" Well, no. I guess that's the fate of historians, to be remembered by few, but perhaps to influence many, if one is lucky.

Posted by: Brian C.B. on July 25, 2003 05:43 PM

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When in Paris last April, I was taking a shortcut through Pere Lachaise and saw a modern marker, a circle of stainless steel with a wave-like form in the center of it, a sort of ying-yang figure, the bottom half of it blue, on a grey, inclined stone. I wandered closer and saw it was that of Fernand Braudel. Delighted, I pointed it out to two elderly women who had probably come to wash the grave of a husband or father, given that they were carrying a bucket and some detergent. They smiled, listened patiently as I gushed at what a great historian Braudel was, and how he had helped point history toward consideration of place and trend, and they asked, "Are you a relative?" Well, no. I guess that's the fate of historians, to be remembered by few, but perhaps to influence many, if one is lucky.

Posted by: Brian C.B. on July 25, 2003 05:43 PM

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Here's a nice graph of near-current life expectancies by country.

http://www.worldpolicy.org/globalrights/econrights/maps-life.html

deeper data on this is available from US Census Bureau International Data Base:
http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idbsum.html

(it would be interesting to see historical life expectancies by country that pulled out the large factor due to infant mortality rate changes - if some one knows where this can be found, please do post a link)

Posted by: Anurag on July 25, 2003 05:48 PM

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Thinking about life expectancy is one of the two things that turned me from a mainstream alarmist environmentalist into, in Bjorn Lomborg's felicitous phrase, a skeptical environmentalist. It led me to his writings and before that of Julian Simon, both of whom in my opinion have a better handle on reality than their critics. If something so fundamental as life expectancy keeps increasing impressively, nationally and globally, how can it be that we are going to hell in a handbasket for reasons A, B, C, D, E and F? The answer is that, despite real and serious problems, we aren't.
The other chief factor was how stunningly wrong Paul "Population Bomb" Ehrlich turned out to be, while remaining an environmentalist icon.

Posted by: Ken D on July 25, 2003 06:04 PM

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There are more reasons to be an 'alarmist environmentalist' than merely the impact on human life expectancy. The greatest strides in life expectancy are due to improvements in medicine and the eradication of diseases. Yes. Humans as a species are thriving in spite of environmental degradation. But practically all other species are paying a price. I recently came back from a trip to Monterrey(California) and the famed cannery wharf. It is a telling reminder of the impact of unrestrained assault on the environment. Monterrey grew to be the center of a huge fishing industry and then the fishing industry died all in the space of a few decades as the stocks were depleted by overfishing.
I think it behoves us to preserve healthy populations of species (or atleast preserve environments where healthy populations can sustain themselves...for it is not entirely up us!) so future generations can get benefit from the diversity of species as much as we did.

Posted by: Sam Jackson on July 25, 2003 09:42 PM

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p.s. I forgot to mention the point that Anurag alluded to...the bulk of the increase in life expectancy comes from the reduction of infant mortality and that is due to improvements in pre and neo-natal care and has little to do with our ability to thrive in a worsened environment.

Posted by: Sam Jackson on July 25, 2003 10:22 PM

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"If something so fundamental as life expectancy keeps increasing impressively, nationally and globally, how can it be that we are going to hell in a handbasket for reasons A, B, C, D, E and F?"

Similar dire noises were being made by alarmist economists during the dot com era vis-a-vis rising stock market indices. The fundamental solidity of the Internet boom totally escaped these guys.

Posted by: Elliott Oti on July 26, 2003 12:48 AM

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Am I the only one when looking at those graphs thinks :"What's up with Sweden?" Anyone with any ideas?

Posted by: Rob on July 26, 2003 06:12 AM

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Not really. "What's up with Sweden?" is a perennial puzzle in this literature...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 26, 2003 09:41 AM

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It's good that Ken has caught on to Ehlich's fraudulence and the worth of Lomborg and Simon.

Now, the real radical step: Garrett Hardin is also a fraud.

"The Tragedy of the Commons" assumes that the peasant's cow is as cost free as the grass on the village green. This is obviously false. A cow is in fact one of the most important, and difficult, investments the peasant can make. It's cost is going carefully factored in every family's planning. Not even the calf born to an existing cow is free. It has an opportunity cost: as meat, leather, and hence cash.

In real life, contrary to Hardin's claims, commonses were successful, until they were destroyed by government in the linterests of land and factory owners who wanted manpower and the land itself.

In other words Hardin's thesis is both theoretically unsound (and through a trivially obvious error) and historically dishonest.

Yet it is one of the most popularly quoted "Science" papers of the past generation.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on July 26, 2003 09:48 AM

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What did you use to produce the smooth? Lowess? If so what smoothing parameter and how was it chosen?

Posted by: A. Zarkov on July 26, 2003 11:17 AM

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Maybe I'm just being silly here, but if this is a graph of life expectancy at birth, then how can we possibly know figures for the year 2000? Or for any year before, say, 1920?

If people are dying at age 70 today, that means that the life expectancy at birth in 1930, not in 2000, was in the vicinity of 70 years -- right?

Also, a question -- is this estimated mean or median life expectancy? I would guess that the distribution of age-of-deaths would not be normal, so the distinction might be important. Of course, it's quite possible that this was mentioned and I just missed it, and I'm aware that this information is all publicly available and just a click away. Oh well.

Posted by: Anno-nymous on July 26, 2003 03:40 PM

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Well, Julian Simons is a fraud too. He's the one who explained that since the number of points on a line is infinite, we can never run out of resources. I have the documentation but I'm too lazy to get it at the moment.

Posted by: zizka on July 26, 2003 04:26 PM

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Maybe I'm just being silly here, but if this is a graph of life expectancy at birth, then how can we possibly know figures for the year 2000? Or for any year before, say, 1920?

If people are dying at age 70 today, that means that the life expectancy at birth in 1930, not in 2000, was in the vicinity of 70 years -- right?

Also, a question -- is this estimated mean or median life expectancy? I would guess that the distribution of age-of-deaths would not be normal, so the distinction might be important. Of course, it's quite possible that this was mentioned and I just missed it, and I'm aware that this information is all publicly available and just a click away. Oh well.

Posted by: Anno-nymous on July 26, 2003 04:44 PM

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No, you are not being silly. "Life expectancy in year X" is a term of demographic art. It is the life expectancy of somebody whose chances of surviving from one year to the next are the chances of surviving form one year to the next of all the people in that one particular year.

It's as if you were to freeze crude death rates at their year-
X levels for all of future history.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 26, 2003 05:55 PM

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I heard someplace that historically high infant mortality rates concealed the substantial number of people who lived well past thirty.

http://www.utexas.edu/depts/classics/documents/Life.html

Posted by: Charles on July 28, 2003 10:32 AM

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"Humans as a species are thriving in spite of environmental degradation."

Mainly because the "environmental degradation" is largely apocryphal.

"It is a telling reminder of the impact of unrestrained assault on the environment. Monterrey grew to be the center of a huge fishing industry and then the fishing industry died all in the space of a few decades as the stocks were depleted by overfishing."

That IS a good example of environmental degradation...caused by the "tragedy of the commons." (I don't agree that Garrett Hardin's analysis is fraudulent...at least when extrapolated to fish in the ocean.***)

The solution to the ocean commons problem: eliminate the commons. Make sure every fish has an owner. That's why farmers can produce record harvests year after year...they make money by planting seeds. Nobody makes money by creating fish eggs.

"I think it behoves us to preserve healthy populations of species (or atleast preserve environments where healthy populations can sustain themselves...for it is not entirely up us!) so future generations can get benefit from the diversity of species as much as we did."

It seems like it would make more sense to set up the economic mechanisms (e.g. tradable fishing rights) that prevent the degradations. Absent those mechanisms, the battle will always exist.

Currently, fish provide somewhere less than 10 percent of all calories in the diet of humanity (i.e., all humans combined). Oceans cover 2/3rds of the planet. I don't see a good reason why oceans couldn't economically provide 30 percent or more of the total calories of humanity's diet.

Our oceans are deserts. We should turn them into farms.

***P.S. Geez! What do you know...George Monbiot actually writes something with which I agree!

http://www.monbiot.co.uk/dsp_article.cfm?article_id=219

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 28, 2003 04:26 PM

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