Neglected growth miracles

Between 1962 and 2002, life expectancy in the Middle East and North Africa…increased from around 48 years to 69 years…it was…the strongest performance of any region in the world…

…China, which saw life expectancy growing at 1.6 percent in the 1960s, collapsing to around 0.2 percent in the 1980s and 1990s, while income growth was going in the other direction.

Did you know that The Gambia, Yemen, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Libya were all in the top ten gainers in life expectancy, 1962-2002?

Here is the paper.  Here is the guy’s (very interesting) blog, via Bryan Caplan.


The Gambia, Yemen, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Libya

well...when you start low inputs can have massive effects, hey? my maternal grandmother (a bangladeshi) had 2 of her 9 live births die in infancy, and her husband was a wealthy doctor.

Hans Rosling gave a really interesting talk at TED last year on links between GDP and life expectancy. I think he had a follow up one this year.

I do not think I am supposed to post link here but a video of his talk is pretty easy to find - and fun to watch.

More fuel for Greg Clarke's Farewell to Alms - this is exactly what he says is happening with an unprecedented suppression of standards of living (ie. daily calories of food).

I suppose it is a kind of miracle to have lots more people living on the same amount of wealth, but not one that encourages me to want to celebrate.

In the early 1960’s, China was right out of three years of famine following the Great Leap Forward (1958). Death rate reached the post WWII peak. Life expectancy was "unusually" low at about 42 due to both policy error and natural disaster. So if you plot all countries onto a chart of life expectancy vs. per capita GDP, China was an outlier in the early 1960's. The country had been playing catch-up for the rest of 1960’s. Its current growth rate of 0.2% in life expectancy is on par with countries with average life expectancy of 70+.

If it is hard to tell whether economic growth or health gains are more important, I say look at the "foot vote": do people move from countries with lousy economies but good health to places with bad health and good economies? How about vice versa?

I looked into infant mortality about 15 years ago. One of the things I found was that there is a big definitional difference. WHO defines infant mortality as the ratio of deaths before 1 year of age to live births (or somthing like that, I am going from memory)That seems fairly straightforward and well accepted.

The problem is the definition of "live birth". In the US it is basically any baby, however premature, who takes a single breath. In many other countries it is different. France and germany do not count a live birth until the baby is registered with normally takes 4-6 days. Russia did not count live births of any infant until it had reached a certain weight. A low birth weight baby might not be a live birth for 1-2 months. Japan, for cultural reasons, listed many babies who died in the first couple days as "stillborn" and so on.

This discrepancy in reporting causes the US to appear to have a higher infant mortality rate than many other countries.

The life expectancy rate in the US is affected by these babies that die in the first days after birth. I don't know how much this will affect overall life expectancy but I suspect that it does so measurably.

Perhaps a better measure would be expectation of life at age 40. That would at least eliminate the infant mortality as a factor.

John Henry

Comments for this post are closed