Life Expectancy in Ireland since the 1870s

Brendan Walsh


This paper reviews the historical evidence on Irish life expectancy. Although much of the material is broadly familiar, attention is drawn to some lesser-known aspects. These include the reliability of the civil registration data and its implications for measuring life expectancy; the variation in the rate of improvement in life expectancy over the sub-periods between 1871 and 2011; and plausible reasons for it. In recent decades as much as three quarters of longevity gains has been attributable to falling age-specific death rates among the elderly. Given that further reductions in mortality rates among the elderly may be increasingly difficult to deliver, the overall gains in life expectancy in the coming decades may not match those recorded during the first half of the twentieth century.


life expectancy: Ireland; history

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