Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

A universal pattern of mortality decline in the G7 countries


Human lifespan has increased enormously this century1,2,3. But we remain uncertain about the forces that reduce mortality, and about the cost implications of ageing populations4,5 and their associated social burden. The poor understanding of the factors driving mortality decline2,6,7, and the difficulty of forecasting mortality8,9,10,11 are due in part to the pronounced irregularity of annual to decadal mortality change7,12. Here we examine mortality over five decades in the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, US). In every country over this period, mortality at each age has declined exponentially at a roughly constant rate. This trend places a constraint on any theory of society-driven mortality decline, and provides a basis for stochastic mortality forecasting. We find that median forecasts of life expectancy are substantially larger than in existing official forecasts. In terms of the costs of ageing, we forecast values of the dependency ratio (that is, the ratio of people over 65 to working people) in 2050 that are between 6% (UK) and 40% (Japan) higher than official forecasts.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Dominant temporal patterns in the decline of mortality.
Figure 2: Forecasts of e0, the expectation of life corresponding to mortality rates for each year from 1995 to 2050.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Smith, D. W. Human Longevity. (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1993 ).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Preston, S. H. in Forecasting The Health of Elderly Populations (eds Manton, K. G., Singer, B. H. & Suzman, R. M.) 51–77 (Springer, New York, 1991).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Preston, S. H. Mortality Patterns in National Populations, with Special Reference to Recorded Cause of Death. (Academic, New York, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Lee, R. D. in Demography of Aging (eds Martin, L. G. & Preston, S.H.) 8– 49 (National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

  5. World Bank Policy Research Report Averting the Old Age Crisis: Policies to Protect the Old and Promote Growth (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 1994).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. McKeown, T. The Modern Rise of Population (Academic, New York, 1976).

  7. Tuljapurkar, S. & Boe, C. Mortality change and forecasting: How much and how little do we know? N. Am. Actuarial J. 2, 13–47 ( 1998).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  8. Horiuchi, S. & Wilmoth, J. Age patterns of the life-table ageing rate for major causes of death: Aging, disease and mortality in Japan, 1951–1990. J. Gerontol. A 52, B67– B77 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Wilmoth, J. R. Are mortality projections always more pessimistic when disaggregated by cause of death? Math. Popul. Stud. 5, 293– 319 (1995).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Manton, K. G., Stallard, E. & Tolley, D. H. Limits to human life expectancy. Popul. Dev. Rev. 17, 603–637 ( 1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Meslé, F. Classifying causes of death according to an aetiological axis. Popul. Stud. 53, 97–105 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Wilmoth, J. R. in Health and Mortality among Elderly Populations (eds Caselli, G. & Lopez, A.) 266–287 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Lee, R. D. & Carter, L. Modeling and forecasting the time series of US mortality. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 87, 659–671 (1992).

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  14. von Storch, H. Comment on statistics and physical oceanography. Stat. Sci. 9, 215–221 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Broomhead, D. & King, G. Extracting qualitative dynamics from experimental data. Physica D 20, 217– 236 (1986).

    Article  ADS  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  16. de León, J. Empirical EDA Models to Fit and Project Time Series of Age Specific Mortality Rates. Technical Report No. 50. (Central Bureau of Statistics, Oslo, 1990).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Himes, C. L., Preston, S. H. & Condran, G. A. A relational model of mortality at older ages in low mortality countries. Popul. Stud. 48, 269–291 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Lee, R. D. & Skinner, J. in Assessing Knowledge of Retirement Behavior (eds Hanushek, E. A. & Maritato, N. L.) 195– 243 (National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Wilmoth, J. R. The future of human longevity: a demographer's perspective. Science 280, 395–397 ( 1998).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Bell, W. Comparing and assessing time series methods for forecasting age-specific fertility and mortality rates. J. Official Stat. 13, 279–303 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Lee, R. D. & Tuljapurkar, S. Stochastic population forecasts for the United States: Beyond high, medium, and low. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 89, 1175–1189 ( 1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Preston, S. H. Evaluation of postwar mortality projections in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. World Health Statistics Report 27, 719–745 ( 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Population Projection of Japan: 1996–2050 . Technical Report (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Tokyo, 1997).

  24. de Beer, J. & de Jong, A. National population scenarios for countries of the European Economic Area. Maandstatistiek van de Bevolking 44, 7–19 ( 1996).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Goss, S., Wade, A., Bell, F. & Dussault, B. Historical and projected mortality for Mexico, Canada, and the United States. N. Am. Actuarial J. 2, 108–126 (1998).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  26. Canada Pension Plan, Seventeenth Actuarial Report , (Office of the Chief Actuary, Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, Canada, 1998).

Download references


We thank M. Anderson, R. Lee and K. Wachter for comments. This work was supported by the US National Institute of Aging and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (S.T.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shripad Tuljapurkar.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Tuljapurkar, S., Li, N. & Boe, C. A universal pattern of mortality decline in the G7 countries. Nature 405, 789–792 (2000).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing