• Alaka BasuAlaka Basu
      Alaka M. Basu is Professor, Development Sociology, Cornell University, and a member of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health
      Alessandro RosinaAlessandro Rosina
      Professor of Demography and Director, Center for Applied Statistics in Business and Economics, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
      Andrea BrandoliniAndrea Brandolini
      Head of Statistical Analysis Directorate, Bank of Italy
      Bruno MasquelierBruno Masquelier
      Professor of Demography, University of Louvain, Belgium
      Cheikh MbackéCheikh Mbacké
      Associate Professor, Sociology department, Laval University
      Cinzia ContiCinzia Conti
      Researcher at Istat, Head of Unit on Foreign Presence and Social Dynamics
      Corrado BonifaziCorrado Bonifazi
      Director of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, National Research Council, Rome Italy
      Ernestina CoastErnestina Coast
      Associate Professor of Population Studies, London School of Economics
      Wang FengFeng Wang
      Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, USA, and Professor at Fudan University, Shanghai, China fwang(at)
      Francesco BillariFrancesco Billari
      Professor of Sociology and Demography, University of Oxford
      Gilles PisonGilles Pison
      Professor at Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Director of Research at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) (Paris)
      Gustavo De SantisGustavo De Santis
      Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Jacques VallinJacques Vallin
      Emeritus Research Director at INED, Paris; Honorary President of IUSSP
      John KnodelJohn Knodel
      Research Professor Emeritus, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan (USA) and International staff, College of Populations Studies, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand)
      Letizia MencariniLetizia Mencarini
      Associate professor of Demography, Bocconi University - Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy & Collegio Carlo Alberto; P.I. ERC P.I. ERC project n. 313617 (2013-2018) SWELLFER
      Letizia TanturriLetizia Tanturri
      Associate Professor of Demography, University of Padova, Italy
      Massimo livi BacciMassimo livi Bacci
      Emeritus Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Monica Das GuptaMonica Das Gupta
      Research Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, USA
      Paula Miranda-RibeiroPaula Miranda-Ribeiro
      Professor, Demography Department and Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.
      Peter McDonaldPeter McDonald
      Professor of Demography in the Australian National University. Honorary President of IUSSP and winner of the Irene B. Taeuber Award
      Roberto ImpicciatoreRoberto Impicciatore
      Assistant Professor of Demography, University of Milan, Italy
      Salvatore StrozzaSalvatore Strozza
      Professor of Demography, University Federico II, Naples (Italy)
      Stefano MolinaStefano Molina
      Senior Program Officer, Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, Italy
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    • N-IUSSP is a new IUSSP news magazine, which will disseminate scientific findings from demographic research carried out all over the world. The practical implications of current trends, the risks and potentialities of emerging situations, the pros and cons of specific laws are discussed in rigorous but plain language.

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International differences in life expectancy gains (and in their cost)
Vivre plus longtemps (et le prix à payer) dans 14 pays développés

Nick Parr, Jackie Li, Leonie Tickle
life expectancy - old people walking

Ongoing increases in life expectancies may slow the growth of living standards in developed countries. One reason for this is that reductions in mortality rates, which these days are generally greater in the older ages, lower the proportion of the population who are active in the labour force. However, the extent of future life expectancy increase and its effect on the share of population in the labour force will vary considerably between countries

A recent study by Parr et al. (2016) considers the prospects for 14 countries; Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and USA. It combines a new method which generates relatively accurate and coherent forecasts of future death rates (Li 2013, Li et al. 2016), and a new method for evaluating the effects of projected population trends on living standards (Parr and Guest 2014).

Recent and forecasted future trends in life expectancy

Life expectancy gains have varied from country to country. For both sexes, Portugal had the fastest increase in life expectancy at birth between 1970 and 2010, much of which was due to reductions in infant mortality. Japanese life expectancies increased greatly over this period, and Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, and the UK also made relatively large gains. Following stagnation or even – for males – declines over 1970-90, life expectancy at birth increased dramatically after 1990 in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. In contrast, throughout 1970-2010 the increases in life expectancy at birth for the Netherlands, Sweden, USA and Canada were relatively slow.

Schermata 2017-01-23 alle 09.45.39The extent of future gains in life expectancy is likely to vary considerably between countries. For both sexes the greatest increases in life expectancy at birth over 2010-50, forecast by Parr et al (2016), are for Japan, followed by the three East-Central European countries (Czech Rep., Hungary and Poland), Australia and the UK (Figure 1). The forecasted gains in life expectancy at birth are relatively small for the Netherlands, USA, Canada and Sweden for both sexes, and for Spanish females. In all countries, the increase in life expectancy at birth is expected to be greater for males than for females, continuing the recent trend.

An ageing ‘double whammy’

Increasing life expectancy is not the only trend which causes population ageing: lower fertility also increases the proportion in the older ages relative to that in the younger ages. For both males and females, the future life expectancy increases forecast by Parr et al. (2016) tend to be greater in the countries with very low fertility rates (Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland). The projected ageing of populations over 2010-2050 is more uneven between countries because two factors (low fertility and increasing life expectancy), each of which individually would promote population ageing, tend to coincide in the same countries.

Future changes to the population supported per worker

Schermata 2017-01-23 alle 09.45.49Population ageing will reduce the average hours worked per person across the total population if working patterns of people within different age ranges remain unchanged (Figure 2). Contrary to a popular belief which equates population ageing with increasing life expectancy, in all the countries Parr et al. (2016) studied, most of the projected reduction in hours worked per person would occur even if there were no future increase in life expectancy, assuming fertility rates and net international migration also remain unchanged (Figure 2).

The prospects facing different developed countries vary widely. The decreases in per person hours worked tend to be greater in countries with very low fertility rates, and greatest of all in Poland and Japan. These patterns reflect the fact that very low fertility causes rapid population ageing (even more so in Japan and Poland – which have net outmigration) and that large gains in life expectancy are also forecast for these countries.

By maintaining a constant immigration flow over time, some countries would be able to stabilise previously declining trend for annual numbers of births. Whilst before 2050 the populations of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and Portugal face the prospect of rapid ageing, over a longer period of time a partial rejuvenation of these populations could occur if they were to maintain their current immigration levels.

The cost of living longer depends on the broader demographic picture

Increasing life expectancy is a welcome trend which allows people to enjoy life for longer. The adverse effect of this trend on future living standards could be more than offset by the effects of increases in workforce participation and productivity. Increases in the official normal ages for eligibility for state pension have been planned in most developed countries, and justified by forecasted longevity gains (OECD 2015). However, equating the effects of population ageing with those of forecasted gains in life expectancy, which appears to be widespread in public debates, is misplaced.

The effect of future increases in life expectancy on living standards is likely to vary widely between countries and will depend on their fertility and migration levels, and hence age profiles, as well as on the extent of future mortality. Thus for example, in Australia, which has a younger population than most other developed countries, only relatively modest changes in workforce participation would be needed to compensate for the effect of its large forecast gains in life expectancy.


Li, J. (2013). A Poisson common factor model for projecting mortality and life expectancy jointly for females and males, Population Studies 67(1): 111–126.

Li, J., Tickle, L. and Parr, N. (2016) An evaluation of the Poisson common factor model for projecting mortality jointly for both sexes using data from multiple populations. Journal of Population Research 33(4): 333-360.

OECD (2015) Pensions at a Glance 2014: OECD and G20 Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Parr, N. and Guest, R. (2014) A method for socially evaluating the effects of long run demographic paths on living standards. Demographic Research 31(11):275–318.

Parr, N., Li, J. and Tickle, L. (2016) A Cost of Living Longer: Projections of the Effects of Prospective Mortality Improvement on Economic Support Ratios for Fourteen More Advanced Economies. Population Studies. 70(2): 181-200.






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