Life Expectancy in South Korea May Reach 90 by 2030

south korea, south korean woman
(Image credit: Jean Chung/Getty)

Life expectancy is expected to rise in many countries around the world, but in the United States, that increase is predicted to be smaller than in other countries, a new study finds.

In the study, published today (Feb. 21) in the journal The Lancet, researchers predicted what the average life expectancies will be in 35 countries for people born in the year 2030.

The greatest increases in life expectancies over their present levels were predicted for girls born in South Korea and boys born in Hungary, the researchers found. The smallest increases were predicted for both boys and girls born in Macedonia. [Extending Life: 7 Ways to Live Past 100]

To estimate life expectancy, the researchers used a new approach that combined several statistical models. But they noted that the life expectancies described in the study are predictions, and that there is some uncertainty surrounding each prediction.

Girls born in South Korea in 2030 are predicted to have not only one of the biggest increases in life expectancy — 6.6 years over their 2010 life expectancy — but also the highest life expectancy of any group in the study — 90.8 years, according to the study.

Girls born in France in 2030 had the second-highest life expectancy, of 88.6 years, and girls born in Japan in 2030 had the third-highest, with a predicted life expectancy of 88.4 years, the study found.   

This estimated increase in life expectancy in South Korea puts women over a threshold once thought impossible by scientists, the researchers said.

"As recently as the turn of the [21st] century, many researchers believed that life expectancy would never surpass 90," lead study author Majid Ezzati, a professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London, said in a statement. The new research, however, suggests that the 90-year barrier will be broken, he said.

"I don't believe we're anywhere near the upper limit of expectancy — if there even is one," Ezzati said.

For men, the greatest increase in life expectancy was predicted for boys born in Hungary in 2030, with an estimated increase of 7.5 years over the 2010 life expectancy, according to the study. Despite this increase, Hungary's overall life expectancy of 78.2 years for boys born in 2030 remains in the middle of all the countries surveyed, the study found.

Life expectancy for boys born in 2030 was predicted to be the highest in South Korea (84.1 years), Australia (84 years) and Switzerland (84 years), the researchers found.

Although all 35 countries included in the study were predicted to have increases in life expectancy by 2030, some increases were smaller than others.

In the United States, life expectancy in 2030 was predicted to increase by 2.1 years for women and 3 years for men compared with the predicted life expectancies for people born in 2010, the researchers found. These increases would raise the life expectancy to 83.3 for women and 79.5 for men.

"Life expectancy at birth [in the United States] is already lower than [in] most other high-income countries," the researchers wrote in the study, and the new findings suggest that it is "projected to fall further behind."

The researchers noted several reasons for the setback. For example, the U.S. has the highest homicide rates, the highest death rates for women and children, and the highest average body mass index of any high-income country, the researchers said. In addition, it's the only country of the 35 included in the study that doesn't provide universal health care, and many people have unmet health care needs because they cannot afford it, the researchers wrote.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.