By Samir K.C., IIASA World Population Program
How old are you? This is the most basic demographic question about an individual, and an easy one to answer. What is the population of the world or your country? Well, many who read the news roughly know the number, about seven billion for the world and more than a billion in China and India. But when asked more detailed questions about demography, “What percentage of people are younger than you in the world or your country?” or “What’s the remaining life expectancy for you in your country and the world?” the eyes start rolling. Such questions are important because they lead to better knowledge and awareness about the population, especially the question of life expectancy.
This is why I, with my colleagues Wolfgang Fengler (World Bank), Benedikt Gross (data visualization designer), and many others, have developed a website where people can find out their respective place in the world population or the country population: population.io. The website was launched last Saturday at the TEDxVienna.
How long will we live? Most of us in the general public do not know the answer. But demographers and actuaries can actually project the expected date of death for populations, based on factors such as place of residence, age, and sex. Demographers use data on deaths occurring during a period and the population structure to estimate death rates. These death rates are then included in the life table calculations that show, among other details, expected number of years of remaining life given one’s place of residence, age, and sex.
On population.io, you can find your own expected death date, based on population projections and details such as where you were born, where you live, and your sex. Of course, this date is just an average with a distribution. If the remaining life expectancy for a 40-year-old is 30 more years, that does not mean that all today’s 40-year-olds will die in 2044: roughly half will die earlier and half later. But we hope that exploring this tool will give people some insight into the world and their country’s population and their place within it.
How do we know how long you will live?
To answer this question, we use population projections. To make good population projections, demographers need information about the demographic structure, including current age and sex structure and assumptions about the future scenarios of mortality, fertility, and migration. A “cohort component” method is then applied to calculate the future population size and structure and to obtain number of births, deaths, and migration. This method projects each cohort born in the same one- or five-year period forward in time, to replace the older cohort occupying the age. In the process some die or migrate out (population decreases) and some migrate in (population increases), while women in reproductive age groups might give birth to children, who will then enter the population as a new cohort. All of these numbers and assumptions are needed for many purposes within and outside the discipline of population studies including for a proper answer to our question, “How long will I live?”
Here’s how the calculations behind population.io work. As an example, I’ll take myself: For a male of my age, 40 years old, on average according to the current global mortality rates, my remaining life expectancy would be about 37 years. This is bit scary for me – that means as an average “global citizen, I would die at age 77. In Nepal, where I am from, my life expectancy would be a little more than one year less. However, since I will most likely live in Austria, my remaining life expectancy increases to 43 years, an increase of 7.4 years due to migration.
Now, if I add that I belong to the highest category in terms of education, what will happen to my life expectancy? Though education is not yet included in the population.io, it turns out that that also depends to a large degree on where I live. In Portugal or Italy, a person with a university degree would have lesser advantage compared to those with lower secondary education or below (2.5 and 2.6 years more respectively) than someone living in Estonia (13.8 years more) or the Czech Republic (12.5 years), Hungary and Bulgaria (12.1 years).
What if I am a smoker? Do not exercise? These factors too play an important role in future life expectancy, and we plan to add them soon to the population.io Web site.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.