We’re living longer and better, yay! It’s costing us more and more, boo! That sentence sums up many of the articles written about health in the last decade. It’s a sad fact that the cost of living longer seems to be an almost exponential rise in the cost healthcare and that this trend can be seen around the world.

Colour-coded based on Income Group, Size proportional to Total Population for the year 2013

While this can be explained partially by the law of diminishing returns, its natural consequence leads to ever expanding healthcare costs if we want to keep everyone healthier for longer. One side effect of this visualisation is that it demonstrates how aid can be more effectively spent in poorer areas, with an an extra $1000 per capita increasing life expectancy dramatically more in low income countries than in high income ones, such as the UK. While this doesn’t take into account surrounding costs and factors, like infrastructure and regional stability, I don’t think it goes too far to say that there is a monetary cost to living longer.

If we look specifically at high income countries, hopefully ruling out the ability to spend on healthcare, then we can observe a dire trend in health expenditure and age.

Data for 2013, High Income countries only

It’s not exactly a secret that elderly people require more in terms of healthcare, in one way it’s a mark of a developed country. Diseases affecting younger people en masse tend to be easier and cheaper to treat than the diseases of ageing, and so would be the low-hanging fruit in terms of healthcare provision. But this trend in population demographics, especially prevalent in high income countries, illustrates it more adequately than common knowledge.

Data for the world’s population through time

With the world’s population is set to age, and a result of this would seem to be the increase in the percentage we must spend on health. This is especially troublesome for countries like Japan, Italy, and Germany, which have the oldest populations. This would imply that we desperately need to rethink age both in the context of health, and also in being productive for society.

Therefore any progress we wish to make must factor in the efficiency of the new policy with the desired improvement, especially in countries with tax-funded healthcare. Eventually the decision about what treatments should be state-sponsored will come down to bodies like NICE, and frameworks the Quality Adjusted Life Year so as to maximise the effect of funding. The longer and healthier people can live, the longer and more productive they can be. It sounds heartless on the surface, but this is part of the price of having nationalised healthcare. At the end of the day someone has to pay for it, the burden may be split, but it still has to be carried.


Data from the World Bank collection of World Development Indications, reshaped using this script and plotted in Tableau