Life Expectancy – We Have Come a Long Way


generational hands

As science has advanced, so has life expectancy, but in parts of the world including the US, that number fell during the pandemic. So, has our lifespan rebounded since then?  It has.  But first consider that a child born in 1900 could only expect to live32 years. In just over a century, the average had more than doubled to 71 years in 2021.

But when you zoom in, there are major regional differences. Newborns in Africa live to just 62 years on average while in the Americas, it’s about 75 years and in Europe, nearly 78 years.    

Now back to the pandemic. In twenty-nineteen, just before the pandemic, life expectancy in the Americas peaked at about 77, then tumbled two years during the pandemic, and quickly recovered by a year shortly after.  The biggest driver in longevity has been improvements in health. Over the past century, vaccines drove down childhood death rates, new drugs extended the lives of people with chronic diseases such as heart disease, life-saving antibiotics and antivirals protected against infections.    

We also overlook improvements in our public health systems that provide us with clean water, better air quality, and generally better sanitation.  Improvements in our standard of living, the reduction in the poverty rate and vibrant economy also play a positive role. Although we still have a way to reach equity, it’s an achievement to reflect on.    

We are Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog, at UTMB and Quinnipiac University, where biomedical discoveries shape the future of medicine.   For much more and our disclaimer go to or subscribe to our podcast. Sign up for expanded print episodes at or our podcasts at:  Medical Discovery News ( 

More Information

Life Expectancy
Across the world, people are living longer.In 1900, the average life expectancy of a newborn was 32 years. By 2021 this had more than doubled to 71 years. But where, when, how, and why has this dramatic change occurred? To understand it, we can look at data on life expectancy worldwide.

U.S. Life Expectancy Rebounds, Still Shy of Pre-Pandemic Levels
Early data points to an uptick of over a year in life expectancy after a precipitous pandemic-driven decline.