While no one wants to live forever, leading a long, full life is a goal many people share. There have been so many medical and societal advantages over the past few generations that the average life expectancy in the world has grown. But recent events — a world-altering pandemic, namely — has led to a global drop in life expectancy. One nation, however, is bucking the trend, and looking into why could hold secrets that might better our health.
According to New Scientist, Australia’s life expectancy is now the third highest in the world, shooting up from sixth place from last year. And there are a few key things experts attribute to the quick rise, which is particularly impressive given that many countries saw a decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Australia has climbed the ladder because it is one of the few countries where life expectancy has increased during the pandemic,” New Scientist reports. “Most other countries, including the UK and US, have seen significant drops.”
Australia’s average life expectancy, combining all genders, is now 84.3 years long, up 0.4 years from the last count and placing the country in third place behind Monaco, which has the highest life expectancy in the world at 85.9 years, and Japan at 84.8 years.
During the same timeframe, the global life expectancy dropped by 1.8 years, making Australia’s jump more impressive.
"That takes into account the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and shows really that Australia's life expectancy has remained strong through that period," ABS director of demography Emily Walter said, according to ABC News Australia.
"It's important to understand though what that's showing is not only improvements or changes in life expectancy [here], but also changes in other countries' life expectancy."
So how did Australia raise life expectancy, and how can we live like an Aussie here?
For starters, a stricter COVID-19 prevention plan.
“Australia’s covid-19 death toll has been relatively low – about one-fifth that of the UK and US when compared per capita,” New Scientist notes. The country shut down the border into Australia in March 2020, as well as enacting strict lockdowns.
Secondly, experts attribute the rise in life expectancy to quality health care.
The health care system in Australia “ranks quite highly across a number of areas compared with many other countries,” Timothy Adair from the University of Melbourne told New Scientist. Australia has a single-payer health care system that covers all Australian citizens and permanent residents. That single-payer health care system makes health care more affordable and easier to access for many Australians — which in turn can lead to longer life expectancy, research shows.
Unfortunately, the US didn’t have a strict COVID-19 prevention plan in 2020, nor does it have universal healthcare, both of which impact life expectancy.
According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, reported by Harvard Health Publishing, during the same timeframe as Australia’s increase in life expectancy, the US fell nearly three years from 2019’s statistic of 79 years to 2021’s 76 years.