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Why Has Life Expectancy Increased?

July 1, 2011

Throughout most of human history, life expectancy has remained mostly constant. However, in the course of the past century, it has nearly doubled. Why?

The first major decrease in adult mortality came from penicillin by 1950. More medical innovations brought about increased life through three major methods: Infectious diseases were slowed due to sanitation efforts, better personal hygiene and an influx of antibiotics. Cardiovascular health increased with the decline of tobacco smoking, more awareness about healthy diet and better emergency care. Finally, cancer mortality decreased as a result of improved screening, early treatment, and decreased spread of cancer causing infections (HPV, etc).

The overall standard of living increased as well for the middle class, bringing with it better medical care, housing, education, and nutrition. As a result, people were happier, and worked to increase disposable income, a cyclical process. In addition, increased urbanization has increased access to public services. With a decrease in stress and smoking and an increase in protected sex rather than unprotected, people have been found to be healthier and happier.

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