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Explaining the Cross-National Time Series Variation in Life Expectancy: Income, Women’s Education, Shifts, and What Else?

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Author Info

  • Lant Pritchett

    ()
    (Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University)

  • Martina Viarengo

    ()
    (London School of Economics and Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University)

Abstract

This paper examines the variation across countries and evolution over time of life expectancy. Using historical data going back to the beginning of the 20th century several basic facts about the relationship between national income and life expectancy are established. The paper shows that even by examining the augmented Preston curve there is no indication that the Preston curve is “breaking down” and no indication from over 100 years of data that a very strong relationship between national income and life expectancy will not persist, particularly over the ranges of income of primary interest to the Human Development Report. Empirical findings show that there are actually fewer “puzzles” than might appear while trying to reconcile the strong cross-sectional association with the time evolution of life expectancy in specific countries and most of the existing “puzzles” come from using either very short time-horizons or very small moves in income per capita when the Preston curve is a long-run phenomena. The paper also discusses the phenomena of the cross-national convergence, with the life expectancy of the poorer countries increasing, in absolute terms, faster than those of the rich countries and how the findings about the augmented Preston curve relate to discussions of health policy.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its series Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) with number HDRP-2010-31.

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Length: 67 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2010
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published as background research for the 2010 Human Development Report.
Handle: RePEc:hdr:papers:hdrp-2010-31

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Keywords: economic development; economic growth; health; life expectancy; mortality.;

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  1. Gary S. Becker & Tomas J. Philipson & Rodrigo R. Soares, 2005. "The Quantity and Quality of Life and the Evolution of World Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 277-291, March.
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Cited by:
  1. Deepankar Basu, 2011. "Relative mortality improvements as a marker of socio-economic inequality across the developing world, 1990-2009," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics 2011-27, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  2. Deepankar Basu, 2011. "Relative Mortality Improvements as a Marker of Socio-Economic Inequality across the Developing World, 1990 - 2009," Working Papers, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst wp268, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
  3. David Mayer-Foulkes, 2011. "A Causal Panorama of Cross-Country Human Development," DEGIT Conference Papers, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade c016_049, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
  4. Fabrizio Carmignani & Sriram Shankar & Eng Tan & Kam Tang, 2014. "Identifying covariates of population health using extreme bound analysis," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer, Springer, vol. 15(5), pages 515-531, June.

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