Life Expectancy Through the Ages

We had a look at life expectancy around the world as we know it today, but now we’d like to dig a little deeper and take a look at life expectancy through the ages.

It’s incredible to see the way in which modern medicine and living habits have altered the length of time that we are expected to live. In 17th Century England, the standard life expectancy was around 35 years. Now, life expectancy in Australia is 80.4 years for Caucasian men, and 84.5 years for Caucasian women. In Australia, we are currently one of the highest ranking in the world for life expectancy.

Considering we’re doing a bit of a deep dive into the history of life throughout the ages, we thought it might be pertinent to do a bit of a dive into the history of life insurance too.


History of Life Insurance

Two very enterprising chaps in London, William Talbot and Sir Thomas Allen, must have had a lightbulb moment when they stumbled upon the universal truth that one day, we all shall die. They developed the first modern form of life insurance with the Amicable Society for Perpetual Assistance Office.

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The original plan saw a maximum of 2,000 members paying £7 6s for a policy (around $1,800 AUD) and £6 4s annually (around $1,500 AUD). All members could hold up to three shares, and the premiums collected annually were divided as an ‘amicable contribution’ among the wives and children of members depending on the shares held. Those eligible for a payout were delivered “at an equal rate per share, with only such reserve as is necessary for defraying the charges of management”.

Over time, the system evolved, various other companies were started, and life insurance gradually evolved into what we know it to be today.

So when the Amicable Society and various other life insurers were offering protection for families and beneficiaries in the 18th Century, what sort of life expectancy was expected around then?


Life Expectancy Through the Ages

Studies show that if you were born in 1900, you had a pretty good chance of dying by your 50th birthday. Yikes. Things have changed substantially since then thanks to improved health and safety around the world. In our investigation we have found that various nations have different figures available depending on records, and so we’ll offer as much information as possible for each country and nation for each time period.



We’ve only uncovered data from the United Kingdom here, and they put life expectancy at around 33.94 years of age. But, if you were an aristocrat (and thus had access to things like oh, you know – food and clean water), you were tipped to live a lot longer. If a gentleman in the English aristocracy blew out the candles on their twenty-first birthday cake, they could expect to live until as old as 71.

One particularly memorable case in London has a burial register in Shoreditch that puts one Thomas Cam (or Carn) at a whopping 207 years old. According to Old and New London, ‘the 2 should probably be a 1.’ Still, even by modern standards, 107 is a very good innings – let alone in Reformation England.



Things improved slightly in the 1600s with the average age being 39 years. A potentially dubious claim of longevity was made in 1649 where Thomas Damme of Leighton was recorded as dying at 154 years of age.



Life insurance was invented in the United Kingdom, and people stayed around the 39-year mark for life expectancy. The Irish Famine saw a huge loss of life with around 310,000 – 480,000 people starving due to cold weather affecting their harvests.



During the 1800s the life expectancy began to rise, reaching 48 by the end of the 1800s in the UK, and records beginning in other nations with recorded ages of 36 in Japan, 38 in Germany, and 25 in India.



Serious record keeping began around the world as the average age rose steeply. Modern medicine got a whole lot better, as women were dying in childbirth less and serious diseases like pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, and bronchitis were treated far more effectively. Major incidents like war and famine/disease outbreaks saw population numbers decrease in certain areas – but the average number just kept creeping up. In the 1950s, people could expect to live to 70 in the UK, 67 in Germany, 57.7 in Japan (up from an average of 30 in 1945 after the bombing of Hiroshima), 47 in South Korea, 34 in Ethiopia, and 36 in India.



We see figures continue to rise thanks to modern medicine and lifestyle changes. Yoga has a lot to answer for, and so does kale, probably. Take a look at the ages by country:

  • Japan – 83
  • Australia – 82
  • UK – 81
  • Canada – 82
  • Singapore – 83
  • Italy – 82
  • New Zealand – 81

It must be said that in certain regions less developed, life expectancy is still around the 50-year mark, and this is something that as a nation we must all do our best to improve.

If you are looking for life insurance to protect you and your family, please get in touch to find out more about how we can help you or call us for a confidential chat on 1300 366 817.

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