Recent census data shows that the US average life expectancy has increased to a record-breaking 78 years. The immediate thought that most people have when presented with this information is that improving medical technology and increased health is leading to longer lives. To some extent, that is true. While there is a clear correlation between life expectancy and medical advances, this number does not really mean that the average person is living a longer life.
In reality, average life expectancy is determined almost entirely by infant mortality rate. In this most recent report, the CDC listed “a record low of 6.42 deaths per 1,000 live births, a drop of nearly 3% from 2008.” This number was 100 out of 1000 as recently as 1920, creating a statistic that implies that most people are living up to twenty years longer than they have in the past. This is simply not true.
Death rates are likely to continue dropping over the next decades as medical advances remove the threat of curable disease. The increasing unpopularity of smoking adds to this number as well. This ratio of infant-mortality and death rate will continue to influence life expectancy, but we do not need to start worrying about running out of retirement homes any time soon.