Before the 19th century, life was overwhelmingly ‘nasty, mean, brutish and short’; life expectancy was rarely above 30 at birth anywhere, and often significantly less through the impact of pestilence, famine and war. The Industrial Revolution, which began in western Europe, ushered in an age of rapidly increasing life expectancy through a combination of improving living standards (particularly sanitation, hygiene and nutrition) and medical innovation. Nevertheless, when old age pensions were first introduced in the United Kingdom (1908), life expectancy was still only 47, and less than a quarter of the population could expect to attain the age of 70 to qualify. In the 20th century, rates of increase have gradually declined in the first world, matched by a take-off in developing countries. Life expectancies at 60 are a key demographic and economic issue of the near future, as they represent the number of years that OECD member countries will have to make provision for state pensions, social care and increasing medical support.
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