What is the life expectancy of a baby born today in Europe?

  • A. 78
  • B. 82
  • C. 86

Correct answer

The life expectancy of a baby born in Europe in 2016 is 77.5 years. Turkmenistan has the lowest life expectancy at birth, at 68.2 years, while Spain the highest at 83.3 years.

82 would be the correct answer for countries like Luxembourg, Iceland, Austria, and Israel, but at the moment not a single country in Europe has a life expectancy at birth of 86 years. However, when it comes to living long lives, women by far outdo men. On average, women in France, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland actually do live to 86.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the World Health Organization: https://gapm.io/xwhol

Lives in Eastern Europe are shorter than Western Europeans think

Our human respondents didn’t do quite so badly on this question, but they still scored worse than random: 30% managed to answer correctly. Germany had the lowest score for this question at 25% correct answers. France came in second with 32%, while only the United Kingdom managed to match the chimps with 33% of respondents answering correctly.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that what they see in their country is true for all of Europe… Life expectancy has been on a nearly continuous upward path since the late 19th Century—a fact that most people in Europe are aware of. And because they know it has been rising for so long — and that it continues to rise — it’s easy to assume that the highest number must be correct.

It is also possible that people in France, Germany, and the UK believe that life expectancy in Europe as a whole is closer to the number for their own countries. Life expectancy at birth in Germany and in the United Kingdom is 81 years, while in France it’s 83 years. However, the overall figure is brought down by lower life expectancies in a number of Eastern European countries.

What is the life expectancy of the world today?

  • A. 50 years
  • B. 60 years
  • C. 70 years

Correct answer

According to data from more than 100 sources, by 2017 the average life expectancy worldwide was 72.8 years

50 years would have been correct during the mid-1950s and early 1960s, and 60 years was correct in the 1970s and 1980s, and even as recently as the early 1990s in some countries. Thankfully, as a result of reduced poverty, improved nutrition, and better access to healthcare, things have improved substantially over the last six or seven decades.

You can find the full dataset (compiled by Gapminder) here.

The ignorance we found

Out of our 12,000 respondents, 37% answered this question correctly. Finally, our respondents beat the chimps! But let’s not get carried away; 37% is only a lit bit better than random.

Our South Korean respondents scored highest, with 49% choosing the correct answer, while at the other end our Norwegian respondents scored extremely poorly, with just 25% correct answers.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Most people suffer from an inaccurate misconception that the world is getting worse. Even in areas where we know things are getting better (like life expectancy) we still cling to the idea that things can’t be too good—that improvements must be very slow, if they happen at all.

In reality, global life expectancy has risen from 50 in the mid-1980s to almost 73 years in 2017. That’s a 35% improvement within a very short timespan – something most people simply wouldn’t be willing to accept without seeing the data for themselves.