Long Life

Life expectancies around the world range from over 80 years at birth in a dozen countries to under 50 years in 19 countries. We wonder: Which of the following countries has a life expectancy at birth closest to that of an infant born in the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C.?

A. India
B. Spain
C. South Africa
D. China

A. India is not correct.

Life expectancy at birth in India is 64.2 years — considerably lower than in Washington, D.C., which is 72.0 years (according to the World Bank). Life expectancy at birth in India is also lower than the global average of 68 years. It also is lower than the remarkably low life expectancy at birth in Russia, 65.5 years. In fact, life expectancy for men in India is considerably higher than in Russia, 62.9 years versus 58.9 years.

In contrast, an infant girl can be expected to live much longer in Russia than in India, 72.4 years, compared to 65.5 years. These differences reflect both a bias favoring boys in India and the health effects of alcoholism in Russia.

B. Spain is not correct.

The 12 countries with life expectancy at birth above 80 years are all in Western Europe (except Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Macau and Canada). Spain is one of them. At 80.6 years, life expectancy in Spain exceeds even that of Hawaii, the U.S. state with highest life expectancy at birth.

Life expectancy at birth in the U.S. capital city, Washington, D.C., is lower than that in any state of the United States — and considerably lower than the U.S. average of 77.7 years.

C. South Africa is not correct.

South Africa's life expectancy is among the lowest in the world. HIV-AIDS has reduced life expectancy at birth in South Africa to 47.7 years. Outside Africa, the country with the lowest life expectancy at birth is East Timor, at 56.7 years.

All 19 countries with life expectancies below 50 years are in sub-Saharan Africa.

D. China is correct.

Washington, D.C. has a life expectancy at birth comparable to what the World Bank considers a middle-income country — not a major industrialized country. Jordan (72.0), China (71.8), and Brazil (71.8) all have life expectancies at birth similar to that of Washington, D.C.

In contrast, the poorest local area in the United Kingdom (Dundee, Scotland) has a life expectancy at birth of 73.6, above that of Washington, D.C. — and comparable to that of Tunisia and Mexico.

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