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Science | PSHE | Relationships and health

Western life expectancy slows in ‘lost decade’

Has Western society stopped improving? A shocking new report shows that babies born in England will no longer live longer than their parents. Life expectancy in America peaked in 2014. "Nasty, brutish, and short." That's what life was like before civilisation, according to the philosopher Thomas HobbesAn English philosopher who is regarded as one of the founders of modern political theory.. And for over a century, progress has been measured by rising lifeThere are only 60 other criminals serving a whole-life sentence in the UK.  expectancy as people in the West lived longer, happier, healthier lives. So experts are worried by the latest report showing that, since 2010, life expectancy in England has ground to a halt. And among the poorest, it has even begun to decline. A similar trend is taking place across Western society. The worst news is in the US where life expectancy peaked in 2014 at 78.84 years. The author of the report in England says, "If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving." So what's going wrong, and is he right? Average life expectancy is a deceptively simple number by which we can gauge the health of a society, and there are many factors behind its rise and fall. Over the 20th Century, improvements in medicine, technology, living and working conditions helped extend people's lives in the UK from 46 to 76 years. And as countries grew richer, their citizens lived longer. Now, the fall in the US is being blamed on the spread of drug addiction, deaths related to poor diet and obesity, and higher rates of suicide - especially in rural areas. In the UK, economic austerity and winter flu deaths are thought to be behind the grim data. It's a bleak picture, but does it tell the whole story? It can be easy, says Steven PinkerA Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular science author. A well-known intellectual, he believes that the world is getting better., to focus on our immediate problems and experiences, and lose sight of the immense progress across society. If we zoom out to look at global and long-term trends, we are living better lives than our parents and grandparents. And some signs of progress are harder to measure than others. In the last decade, governments and statisticians have given more attention to measuring happinessStudies show that the hormone oxytocin is released when owners look at their pets. as society seeks to improve mental health and well-being. But changing social values are perhaps the hardest to measure. Western societies continue to become more inclusive and tolerant of difference and diversity, from sexual orientation to ethnicity and gender equality. So, has western society stopped improving? Decline and fall Of course not, say some. Most of our current problems can be traced back to the global recessionAn extended period of economic decline across the entire world. in 2007. We are still recovering from the enormous scale of that crisis, but the long march of progress continues. We are surrounded by the evidence: medical advances in treating cancer and dementia, giant leaps forward in renewable energy and green technology, and falling rates of violent crime. Others warn that we should take the fall in life expectancy very seriously. A society should be judged by how it looks after the old and the vulnerable. If poorer people are dying younger, it means there is something fundamentally wrong. For generations, people believed that their children would live longer, have better lives, and progress was inevitable. We can no longer make that assumption. KeywordsThomas Hobbes - An English philosopher who is regarded as one of the founders of modern political theory.

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