South Korean women will be the first in the world to have an average life expectancy of 91 years, a new study predicts.
Imperial College London and the World Health Organization analyzed lifespans in 35 industrialized countries. The study found all would see people living longer in 2030, and the gap between men and women would start to close in most countries.
Scientists once thought an average life expectancy beyond 90 was impossible but medical advances, combined with improved social programs, are continuing to break barriers, including in countries where many people already live well into old age, according to the study's lead researcher, Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London.
"I can imagine that there is a limit, but we are still very far from it,'' he said. Ezzati estimated that people would eventually survive on average to at least 110 or 120 years.
While women and men in South Korea led the study, Americans continued to have one of the lowest life expectancies of any developed country.
Women were ahead of men in all countries. Behind South Korea, women in France, Japan, Spain and Switzerland were projected to live until 88. For South Korean men, life expectancy is expected to reach 84. Next were Australia, Switzerland, Canada and the Netherlands at nearly 84.
At the bottom of the list: Macedonia for women at nearly 78, and Serbia for men at about 73.
The study estimated that the U.S., which already lags behind other developed countries, will fall even further behind by 2030, when men and women are projected to live to 80 and 83, about the same as Mexico and Croatia. According to the study, this was partly due to a lack of universal health care in the United States, and also due to factors such as relatively high child and maternal mortality rates, and high rates of homicides and obesity.
The study was published online Tuesday in The Lancet medical journal.