Life expectancy

Life expectancy is the number of years a person would be expected to live, starting from birth (life expectancy at birth) or at age 65 (life expectancy at age 65), based on the mortality statistics for a given observation period. A widely used indicator of the health of a population, life expectancy measures quantity rather than quality of life.

Importance of indicator

Life expectancy at birth reflects the overall mortality of a population. It summarizes the mortality pattern that prevails across all age groups - children and adolescents, adults and the elderly1.

Background

The steady increase in life expectancy over the past centuries has been attributed to improved nutrition, better hygiene, access to safe drinking water, effective birth control and immunization and other medical interventions2.

At every stage of the life cycle, males are more likely than females to die. This difference, evident since industrialization, has created a gender gap in life expectancy2.

By 2031, average life expectancy in Canada is projected to have risen to 81.9 for males and 86.0 for females, with the gap between the sexes continuing to narrow3.

People with lower incomes, those living in poorer neighbourhoods, and people residing in the Inuit-inhabited areas tend to have shorter life expectancies4,5,6,7 than do other Canadians.

Although life expectancy is increasing, not all years will necessarily be spent in full health; on average, Canadians can expect to spend 70 of 80 years in good health4.

Compared with other OECD countries, Canadian males and females have long life expectancies (78 and 83 years, respectively, in 2005).  By comparison, Hungary ranked lowest for males at less than 69 years, while Iceland ranked highest (79 years). For females, Turkey ranked lowest at 74 years, and Japan ranked highest at 86 years.8.

Highlights and graph

Time trend

Description

Graph 2.0 - Life expectancy at birth, by sex, Canada, 1956 to 2005

  • Between 1921 and 2005, average life expectancy at birth rose substantially in Canada, from 58.8 to 78.0 years for males and from 60.6 to 82.7 years for females.

  • The gap between the sexes was less than 2 years in 1921; it increased steadily over the next 50 years to more than 7 years in 1976, and gradually narrowed to fewer than 5 years in 2005.

References

1. World Health Organization (WHO).  (WHO) Statistical Information System (WHOSIS).

2. Clark JN.  Health, illness, and medicine in Canada. Toronto:McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1990.

3. Statistics Canada. Canadian Demographics at a Glance. Catalogue 91-003 Ottawa: 2008.

4. Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table, Health-adjusted life expectancy, at birth and at age 65, by sex and income group, Canada and provinces, occasional (years).

5. Wilkins R, Uppal S, Finès P, Senécal S, Guimond E, Dion R. Life expectancy in the Inuit-inhabited areas of Canada, 1989 to 2003. Health Reports (Statistics Canada, Catalogue 82-003) 2008;19(1):7-19.

6. Wilkins R, Berthelot JM, Ng E.  Trends in mortality by neighbourhood income in urban Canada from 1971 to 1996. Health Reports (Statistics Canada, Catalogue 82-003) 2002;13(suppl):45-71.

7. Wilkins R, Adams O, Brancker A. Changes in mortality by income in urban Canada from 1971 to 1986. Health Reports (Statistics Canada, Catalogue 82-003) 1990;1(2):137-174.

8. Organization for Economic Co-operation and development (OECD). OECD Health Data 2009 – Frequently Requested Data. Life expectancy at birth, by gender.

Other studies

Fang R, Millar JS. Canada's global position in life expectancy: A longitudinal comparison with the healthiest countries in the world. Canadian Journal of Public Health 2009; 100(1): 9-13.

Nagnur D. Longevity and Historical Life Tables, 1921-1981 (Abridged) (Catalogue 89-506) Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1986.

St-Arnaud J, Beaudet MP, Tully P. Life expectancy. Health Reports (Statistics Canada, Catalogue 82-003) 2005; 17(1): 43-7.

Gilmore J, Wannell B. Life expectancy.  Health Reports (Statistics Canada, Catalogue 82-003) 1999; 11(3): 9-24.

Wilkins K. Predictors of death in seniors. Health Reports (Statistics Canada, Catalogue 82-003) 2006; 16(Suppl.): 57-67.