Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Life Expectancy in Polluted Shanghai

Scott Sumner posts some interesting numbers and then asks the BIG question:
The pollution is quite bad in Shanghai, but I wonder about those health costs.  Are they truly “immense?”  Here’s a list of life expectancy of some countries.  Japan leads the world, and Iceland leads Europe.  Of course Iceland has virtually no air pollution.  I also included some other East Asian countries:

Japan   84.6

Singapore  84.0

Hong Kong  83.8

Iceland   83.3

Shanghai  82.3

Beijing  81.3

Korea   81.0

Taiwan  80.6

US  79.8

Denmark   79.5

If the health cost of air pollution is immense, why is Singapore’s life expectancy only 0.2 years above highly polluted Hong Kong?  Also keep in mind that the Chinese smoke at a very high rate, which could easily take a year off their life expectancy, even with no air pollution.


  1. The issue to look at is what quality of life and chronic diseases people have after 65. I work in healthcare technology and two populations can have similar life spans but vastly different qualities of life (ie dementia, copd, ) due to lifestyle diet environmental factors. Air pollution is pissing in the swimming pool everyone swims in. Also clean water is an issue in China which is another reason amongst many the elites want to move here

  2. Your data does not account for the fact that certain cities have had a recent but rapid increase in pollution. Populations exposed to high levels of pollution only after age 60 are going to have a longer lifespan than populations exposed to pollution beginning at a very young age. This is why actuaries are starting to back-down on population longevity predictions for certain Asian cities.

  3. My experience while spending time in both the PROC and Hong Kong, is, there;s a high percentage of men who smoke on the mainland. But the number of men who smoke in Hong Kong is minimal. I could be wrong. Most of my observations were in public places. In China, it is very customary for men to smoke in restaurants and other public places. Not so in Hong Kong.