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6.3: Life Expectancy and the Graying of Society

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    • Anonymous
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    Learning Objectives

    1. Describe the differences in life expectancy around the world.
    2. List the potential problems associated with the growing proportion of older individuals in poor nations.
    3. Explain the evidence for inequality in US life expectancy.

    When we look historically and cross-culturally, we see that old age is a relative term, since few people in preindustrial times or in poor countries today reach the age range that most Americans would consider to be old, say 65 or older. When we compare contemporary societies, we find that life expectancy, or the average age to which people can be expected to live, varies dramatically across the world. As Figure 6.1 “Average Life Expectancy across the Globe (Years)” illustrates, life expectancy in North America, most of Europe, and Australia averages 75 years or more, while life expectancy in most of Africa averages less than 60 years (Population Reference Bureau, 2011).

    Figure 6.1 Average Life Expectancy across the Globe (Years)


    Source: Adapted from Population Reference Bureau. (2011). The world at 7 billion: World population data sheet: Life expectancy. Retrieved from

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