Stalling Life Expectancy in Europe: A Short-Term Fluctuation or New Stage in Health Transition?

Domantas Jasilionis , Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research / Vytautas Magnus University
France Meslé, Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)
Jacques Vallin, Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)

In the most recent years, life expectancy improvements in several low-mortality countries have unexpectedly slowed down or even stopped. This unexpected stagnation in Europe contrasts to continuing impressive progress in Japan and some other East Asian populations. Differently from the USA, where the reversal in life expectancy trends was driven by adult mortality crisis, the European countries suffer from lacking health improvements at older ages. Do these contradictory changes refer to short-term fluctuations or rather they mark a new stage of health transition? Our preliminary analyses suggest that many low-mortality countries have already exhausted the resources from “cardiovascular revolution”, which fueled longevity progress during the few prior decades. Therefore, further longevity advances require new ways in combating ageing-related diseases at increasingly advanced ages. We explore this hypothesis by systematically comparing age- and cause-specific mortality trajectories and their contributions to the recent life expectancy changes among the most- and least-successful low-mortality countries. Finally, we argue that the observed slow-down in life expectancy improvements in some countries does not suggest about the approaching human longevity limits. It rather confirms that the new wave of health progress eventually leads to a new phase of divergence between the established (Japan) and newly emerging (S. Korea) vanguards in East Asia and increasingly lagging behind European countries. Meanwhile, the stalling life expectancy improvements in Europe should be taken seriously, because as it has happened in the past, a short-term stagnation may eventually lead to a prolonged longevity crisis.

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 Presented in Session 20. National Trends in Life Expectancy and Mortality