We’ve – I think I can count you in if you’re reading this – all been frustrated from time to time by “life expectancy at birth” type stats which fail to take into account the skewing effect childhood mortality has on the overall figure. If you were born in the 1840s, for instance, your life expectancy at birth would have been rather low – anything from 17 to somewhere in the 40s depending on your background. But so many of your cohorts wouldn’t make it past the various childhood accidents, illnesses etc., but if you did get through, your prospects were much more positive. (More beneath the cut)
Your psychological expectations regarding your own longevity would not have been the 17-40 years of the expectation-at-birth tables. You’d have expected the sort of figure you see in Victorian burial grounds, where most men, at any rate, could look to at least their late 50s before leaving whisky by the chimney for the reaper. (Childbirth made longevity a different subject altogether for married or sexually active women).
But burial grounds represent socially-restricted, geographically-hampered statistical samples. We want the most accurate samples known to humanity etc.
And this is where Wolfram Alpha comes into its own. Click here for the current UK life expectancy at age 10 and related stats.
But even I can see that the chart at the bottom of the page, reproduced below, is unusually interesting. It shows, year by year since the 1850s, how long you could expect to live at age 10. It’s a steady, encouraging, upward curve, arrowing north from the sweat and horror of Victorian Typhoid outbreaks to the light and safety of lingering, pipe-strewn 21st century deaths. But it’s an interrupted curve…
If you remember the discussion here last week about the devastation wrought on Scottish Borders rugby by the Great War – well, here it is in diagram form. Still shocking when you’ve known about it all your life:
Because the above chart sets out the age you can expect to reach FROM 10 years old, the shape of the curve alters in interesting ways as you increase the starting age. In particular, the ability of world war to slash your life expectancy gradually reduces until it almost disappears entirely. But other things take its place. The chart below is life expectancy at age 50. Something was going on the early 1890s. But what? There was an economic slowdown, but nothing on the scale of the 1870s panic. Any thoughts?