“Sick Men” of the World Compared

While men and women across the globe on average are living longer than ever before, there are countries where life expectancy levels have either stagnated or even declined in recent decades. We wonder: In which of the following countries has the life expectancy for men experienced the biggest drop over the past 25 years?

A. Haiti
B. Russia
C. Afghanistan
D. Rwanda

A. Haiti is not correct.

Despite endemic poverty and the calamities suffered in the 2010 earthquake, Haiti's male life expectancy levels actually increased by seven years between 1985-1990 and 2005-2010, according to the latest available data from the UN Population Division.

Haitian men can now expect to live 59.5 years, a big improvement over 1950-1955, when male life expectancy was 36.5 years.

B. Russia is correct.

Russian men's lifespan is, on average, 3.5 years shorter today than in 1985-1990, just before the Soviet Union collapsed, as male life expectancy has declined from about 64 years to 60.5 years. Russian men's health has been in a state of crisis, with high heart attack and stroke rates, and high incidences of poisoning, violence, alcoholism and suicide.

By comparison, in neighboring China, men now live over five years longer today than in 1985-1990, with male life expectancy having risen from 66 to 71.5 years. Back in 1950-1955, Chinese men on average only lived for 39 years, whereas Russian men at the time could expect to live for 60.5 years.

C. Afghanistan is not correct.

Ravaged by conflict for three decades, Afghanistan has nevertheless seen male life expectancy increase by three years since 1985-1990, from 41 to 44 years.

In war-torn Iraq, male life expectancy has increased by 5.5 years since 1985-1990, from 58 years to 63.5 years.

D. Rwanda is not correct.

Men in Rwanda today can expect to live 48 years — or six years longer than in 1985-1990. In the 1990s, male life expectancy in Rwanda briefly dipped to 22 years, following the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Rwandans were killed.

As poor as Russia's record is, some sub-Saharan countries have registered even bigger declines. Men in Zimbabwe, which has been traumatized by both a collapsed economy and an AIDS epidemic, on average reach an age of only 43 years. Their lifespans are thus 15.5 years shorter today than in 1985-1990. In war-torn Congo, male life expectancy has dropped by nearly six years in the same period.

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