The OECD Health Data 2013 final update numbers are out and for the first time average life expectancy at birth in the OECD countries (numbers for 2011) exceeds 80 years at 80.1. This represents a gain of ten years since 1970. When life expectancy for men and women at age 65 is examined, there are substantial gains here also. The life expectancy of females at age 65 in the OECD in 1970 was 15.8 years and grew to 20.9 years by 2011. Meanwhile, over the same period, the life expectancy of males went from 12.7 years to 17.6 years. The OECD notes that high per capita income is associated with higher life expectancy though many other factors play a role. I guess an interesting question is what some of these other factors in the life expectancy health production function might be and how important medical resources are.
How about resource expenditure? Figure 4 plots life expectancy as a function of public health expenditure per capita. Here the results show a positive relationship up to about $2500 and then a slight decline. More public health expenditure per capita seems to eventually yield diminishing returns. Figure 5 looks at the role of technology – the number of MRI exams per 1,000 of population is plotted against life expectancy and it yields a roller coaster similar to physician consultations per capita. Based on Figures 3 and 5, I would have to say that seeing the doctor more often and having more scans may not always be conducive to a longer life. Finally, the accompanying table presents a number of assorted simple regressions to see what variables might best explain life expectancy using the 2011 OECD data. It would appear that per capita income and per capita public health expenditure are important variables.
In the early 1960s, average life expectancy at birth in the OECD countries was 68 years and has now reached just over 80 years. Over a fifty-year period, we have added 12 years to life expectancy at birth in the developed countries. In Canada – where life expectancy at birth is pretty close to the OECD average (81 versus 80.1) – the gains since 1970 match the growth for the fifty years previous. In 1931, life expectancy at birth for Canadians was about 61 years while by the early 1960s it was 71 years and now is at 81. Over 80 years, we have added about 20 years to life expectancy at birth in Canada and one expects this is similar across the OECD. When it comes to life expectancy as a health production function, we don’t seem to have reached the peak of the function yet. The growth of life expectancy at birth has been a persistent phenomenon and based on past performance I expect the next 50 years will add yet another decade to average life spans but probably little additional understanding as to what the key factors are.