Americans Are Outlived by People in Poorer Countries, and the Gap Is About to Get Bigger

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Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

In 2010, the life expectancy for American women was 81; for men it was 76. By 2030, according to projections in a new paper in The Lancet, that’ll be up to 83 and 79, respectively, gains of just a couple of years.

Then there’s South Korea, a country that, after the Korean War, was one of the world’s poorest, and has since become a model for development. In 2010, the South Korean female life expectancy was 84 and male was 77. By 2030, that’s projected to be 90 for women — the world’s highest — and 84 for men. Japanese, Australians, Canadians, Kiwis, and the Dutch are also slated to outlive Americans.

That falling behind is striking since the U.S. is so wealthy. As Julia Belluz and Sarah Frostenson note at Vox, the average American income is $55,980, doubling that of South Korea. And the life-expectancy disparity could end up even greater, since the data assembled by the research team — with scientists from the World Health Organization, Imperial College London, and other top institutions — cut off before the recent declines in American life expectancy.

There’s an obvious reason for the comparative decline, Belluz and Frostenson note: while other wealthy countries offer universal health care to their citizens, the U.S. doesn’t. An unfortunate case of American exceptionalism, huh?

Americans Are Outlived by People in Poorer Countries