Increase in income and life expectancy don’t always go hand in hand
An interesting map (at gapminder) which showed how life expectancy and income per capita have changed over the years – from 1950 to 2005 – caught my eye. The map depicted almost all the countries of the world, but I reduced the clutter by choosing a few countries to compare. To represent the first world I chose the United States as most countries in Europe are more or less similar to it in terms of life expectancy and income. I added Japan because it was way behind in 1950 but rapidly caught up with the first world and is a topper today.
About the map: If you want to stop the scrolling of the slideshow simply move your cursor over the map and it will stop. If you press the sign in between the + sign and the – sign the map will stop scrolling, even if you shift your cursor away from the map. If you press the + sign the chart will move faster and pressing the – sign will make it slow down. And if the images disappear, but you want to view the maps again press the x at the top right hand corner.
Fascinating isn’t it to know that countries like India and China were on par with poor countries in Africa like Nigeria and Kenya in 1950 income-wise, but gradually improved. 35 years ago countries like Nigeria, India and China were almost similar in terms of income per capita.
By 1970 China was well ahead of India in life expectancy (although not income). By 1970, Japan had almost caught up with America.
By 1980 there is a distinct change…China starts to move ahead of India in per capita income. By 1990 India has improved on its per capita income as well, as have most countries, but now China is even further ahead as compared to us. Nigeria has been left behind, even by India.
By the year 2000, China’s life expectancy is on par with Brazil’s and in 2005 China catches up with Brazil in both per capita income and life expectancy.
India’s per capita income and life expectancy has gone up, but what is interesting to note is that while disparities in income have increased, the disparity in life expectancy across different strata of society is not that much. This I got to know from Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s column. This is what he says:
Disparities in income have risen substantially between rich and poor countries, and between rich and poor states in India. But disparities in life expectancy have shrunk, sometimes dramatically. In 1950, life expectancy in India (31 years) was less than half that in the US (68 years). But by 2005, India (64 years) was not far behind the US (77 years)…In terms of per capita income, the richest major state, Maharashtra is four times as rich as Bihar. Yet, life expectancy in Bihar (61 years) is only slightly behind that of Maharashtra (66.4 years). Indeed, Bihar is almost on par with the national life expectancy of 62.7 years.
The gapminder map says that India’s life expectancy in 1950 was 37 years and not 31 (one cannot know which figures are more accurate, ours or theirs) and by 1960 it increased to 44 years. This means that when the British left India we were in a pathetic state health-wise, but in ten years managed to take our life expectancy up by 7 years. By 1970 life expectancy went up by another 6 years to 51. This increase in longevity was steady and by 1980 it was up by another 6 years, to 57.
Interestingly, the life expectancy both in Britain and the U.S in 1950 was 69 years.
India’s life expectancy continued to grow after 1980 (although it slowed down) and by 1990 it was 60 years. By the year 2000 it was 63, and by 2005, it was 65. It becomes harder and harder to climb further but here we have to take a lesson or two from China.
China’s life expectancy was 65 as far back as 1975! And this was at a time when China’s per capita income and India’s was almost similar. China had not yet embarked on its economic reforms programme and it is clear that the results it has achieved have everything to do with the good governance of their health system and ofcourse increased health spends. By 1990 China’s life expectancy had gone up to 69 years and was 72 by the year 2000. In 2005 it was 73 years and today it is probably 75. A great achievement for China as the United States and Japan who were far ahead economically for years (and still are) have a life expectancy of 78 and 83 respectively (2005).
Clearly our health system was never as good as China’s. Though we need to give credit to our government as after Independence we managed to pull ourselves up – within 2 decades.
Sure, new drugs, vaccines etc may have had a big impact in increasing life expectancy in India and China, but that doesn’t explain why some countries are still floundering and why China was way ahead of us in 1975.
Another thing that struck me is that per capita income doesn’t really have that strong a connection with life expectancy of a country – well, not as much as I thought. It is dependent heavily on efficient governance (and less corruption) more than anything else. Health spends matter too. Although India is increasing its spending on health on a regular basis, by world standards, the health spends being 1 percent of GDP are very low indeed. And you guessed it, China is spending huge amounts on health…their health spends are almost 5 percent of GDP today and have been steadily increasing over the years.
I wonder what our government is doing with its money…
I think it’s about time India pulled up its socks when it comes to good clean governance of the health system and increased its health spends. Without this our economic growth is bound to falter. The reduction in people’s productivity is one bad effect of a poor health system…and the other…galloping health costs. Reminds me of that age-old adage…a stitch in time saves nine.
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