Southern Europeans highest life expectancy in the world

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Life expectancy is expected to rise worldwide by 2050, according to findings recently published by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The institute cites many factors for its findings, including “declining deaths from cardiovascular diseases, respiratory infections and tuberculosis, and maternal and neonatal death.”

While the study has outlier countries with much greater gains in lifespan – Singapore tops the list with an estimated life expectancy of 88 – the region of southern Europe, despite poor GDP, has also made strides.

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The institute’s findings conclude that the relatively poorer southern European countries of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal will gain higher life expectancy by 2050. The world’s oldest living woman at 117, Maria Branyas Morera, is Spanish.

Despite these relatively poorer countries scoring low on GDP in comparison to their high life expectancy, they all possess common characteristics. Normally, more wealth correlates with better health worldwide.

A man in a wheelchair is seen at the Somorrostro Beach in Barcelona, Spain. (Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Unlike their fellow top 20 lifespan countries in the study, like Switzerland or Denmark, health might not mean wealth for these southern European nations. 

A 2017 study reveals that Spaniards take 5,936 steps per day on average. For reference, the average American makes only 4,774 in the same study. The cultural heritage of daily movement like walking in nations like Italy and Spain may contribute to their projected high life expectancies.

Barcelona friends at cafe

People sit outdoors at a cafe in Barcelona, Spain. (Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Additionally, Spanish cities are built more densely populated than their counterparts. Regular social interaction could contribute to higher life expectancy. A 2023 Gallup poll among Spaniards found that just over three quarters, or 76%, reported feeling “fairly” or “very” socially supported.

Intergenerational family living is also more common among Spaniards than Americans, with the same poll reporting that 83% of Spaniards had seen “friends or family who live with you or near you” in the same week of polling.

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The institute projects France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain having life expectancies in 2050 somewhere between 84 and 86 years.