The Evolution of Life Expectancy in the World

Life expectancy equals the average number of years a person born in a given country would live if mortality rates at each age were to remain constant in the future.” (Wikipedia)
Depending on the exact sources, global life expectancy currently lies at approximately 71 years although a global estimate tells very little about the differences between the countries. What applies to every country is the fact that women, on average, live longer than men.
The following map shows the distribution of life expectancies based on national-level data as documented in the 2014 revision of the Human Development Report displayed on a gridded population cartogram in which every human gets an equal amount of space:

Gridded Population Cartogram showing Global Life Expectancy in 2013
(click for larger version)

Japan comes first in all current estimates with people being expected to live well into their 80s (86.3 years according to the HDR), while life expectancy at birth in Sierra Leone currently comes almost half at only 45.6 years.
But there are some cautious positive stories hidden in this data. In the period of 1980 to 2013, global levels of life expectancy have been rising almost everywhere – but only almost everywhere: Compared to 1980, Swaziland has seen a decline of 5.3 years, Lesotho a decline of 4.4 years, and also Ukraine and Belarus went down slightly in their average life expectancy at birth (both less then a year in that period). To return to the positive sides of the story: Largest improvements have been made in Cambodia which has seen an increase of 42.5 years up to 71.9 years – an increase of almost as big as the current life expectancy in Sierra Leone (which itself is up only 5 years in that period). East Timor is up 33.1 years (to 67.5 years in 2013). Maldives (77.9, up by 25.6 years), Bhutan (68.3, up 23.3 years) and Nepal (68.4, up 20.7 years) are also all up above 20 years, showing some major improvements in the living conditions and health care there.
The following Worldmapper-style cartogram looks at the absolute improvements of life expectancy between 1980 and 2013 by visualising how many additional years of life have been gained through improvements in life expectancy in that period. Countries with an already large life expectancy therefore become smaller while those countries with large populations and major improvements are the largest in this image. While life expectancy remains a highly unequal issue, there are positive trends that give hope for longer lives for everyone:

Cartogram showing Increases in Global Life Expectancy between 1980 and 2013
(click for larger version)

These maps were part of a contribution to the Human Development Data Visualization Competition for which we created a Prezi presentation. “The Evolution of Life Expectancy in the World” is a cartographic journey through changes in life expectancy between 1980 and 2013. The aim of these maps is a fairer representation of the issue using a novel cartogram technique. Gridded cartograms give every human an equal amount of space by resizing equally-sized grid cells according to the population living in that space. The resulting maps show live expectancy how it matters: through the perspective of people. An animation demonstrates how most of the world slowly progresses towards longer lives; another cartogram approach displays the countries resized according to extra years of life gained by a country’s population through advances in life expectancy in that period. Our maps demonstrate how data related to people can be visualised in a much fairer way than conventional maps. Here is our competition entry:

The content on this page has been created by Tina Gotthardt and Benjamin Hennig using UNDP data published in the 2013 Human Development Report. Please contact me for further details on the terms of use.

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