Central America 200 Years of Independence: Life Expectancy as an Integral Reflection of Development

14 2023 September
Jaime Garcia

The vast cultural and natural mosaic of Central America is as diverse as its history over the last 200 years. Since their independence, the countries of the isthmus have traveled paths of transformation, facing challenges but also reaping achievements. To capture the essence of this journey, we will take life expectancy as a comprehensive indicator that reflects, in many ways, the development landscape of the region.

Life Expectancy: A Comprehensive Indicator

Life expectancy is the average number of years a newborn would live if age-specific mortality rates in the current year remain the same throughout his or her life. Essentially, it is a reflection of the health system, quality of life, access to education, security, economic stability and environmental policies, among others. Therefore, it is a perfect window to understand the holistic development of a nation.

Historical estimates, find that in a premodern and poor world, life expectancy was close to 30 years in practically everyone. However, starting in the second half of the 72.8th century, life expectancy began to grow rapidly until reaching the current values ​​of 2021 years for the world average. Even so, there are big differences between regions and countries. For example, in 79.4, the most recent data, Oceania leads with 61.7 years; but Africa averages 19 years. And it is important to mention that the COVID-XNUMX pandemic meant a drop in life expectancy in practically all regions and countries in the world.

Independent Central America

Considering the best historical data available for each country in the region, it is found that in 1875, Costa Rica had a life expectancy of 30.21 years, similar to the world average. However, in the 1920th century its performance improved, it surpassed the world in 1950 and surpassed Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021; With the most recent data, as of 77, it has the highest life expectancy in Central America at 1900 years. Guatemala, in 24, had a life expectancy of 2021 years, and despite its growth, it has not managed to surpass the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, although it has done so with the world average; In 69.20 it registers a life expectancy of XNUMX years.

Nicaragua, with data since 1920, has shown growth, reaching 73.80 years in 2021, practically tying the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, which, by the way, fell due to the pandemic. El Salvador and Honduras, despite their progress, remain close to, although still below, the Latin American average, but they have managed to surpass the world average, and have a life expectancy of 70.70 years and 70.10 years respectively. In general, the countries of the so-called CA-4 managed to exceed the world average in the 90s of the 1930th century. Finally, Panama, with data since 36 and an initial life expectancy of 40 years, has experienced sustained growth, exceeding the world average in the 76.20s of the last century; standing out in the region along with Costa Rica with 2021 years in XNUMX, also surpassing Latin America and the Caribbean.

Figure 1. Life expectancy (years) 

Source: Own calculations with data from UN WPP (2022); Zijdeman et al. (2015); Riley (2005). 

Strengthen and consolidate

Although in the region only Costa Rica and Panama exceed the average for Latin America and the Caribbean; They are still far from the average life expectancy of high-income countries, which for 2021 is 80.30 years. In that sense, throughout the region we must promote and consolidate issues that have a high impact not only on life expectancy but also end up affecting people's quality of life, such as:

  • Education: Literacy and access to education are key factors in improving quality of life. These advances are reflected in higher life expectancy, as an educated population tends to make more informed decisions about their health and well-being.
  • Health: The increase in life expectancy in the region is due in part to reduced infant mortality and improved access to health services. We must continue to improve the coverage and efficiency of the health system.
  • Economy: With more diversified and robust economies, citizens have better opportunities and, therefore, a better quality of life. The diversification and productive complexity of the Central American economies must be deepened.
  • Peace and Stability: The consolidation of the rule of law and the reduction of armed conflicts also have an impact on life expectancy. Living in peaceful and stable environments promotes general well-being.

Mitigate and prioritize

But we must also mitigate and address aspects that limit the growth potential of the region, challenges that are present today in each of our countries, and affect both life expectancy and the ability to generate social progress and economic prosperity in the region:

  • Inequality: Despite economic growth, not everyone has equitable access to opportunities, which is reflected in disparities in life expectancy between different sectors of the population.
  • Violence: In places with high crime rates, life expectancy can be negatively affected.
  • Environmental Challenges: Natural disasters and climate change affect the infrastructure and available resources, indirectly impacting life expectancy.
  • Governance: Corruption and lack of transparency can influence the equitable distribution of resources essential for quality of life.

Consolidate a region where people live more and better

The journey of more than 200 years of an independent Central America highlights a notable evolution in life expectancy, being an indicator of its development and level of well-being. The data shows that there have been achievements and improvements; But significant lags and challenges persist that must be addressed to reduce the gaps with respect to Latin America or more economically prosperous countries. In this sense, it is crucial that governments, companies and citizens work together to overcome these obstacles, considering mitigating inequality in citizens' capabilities and freedoms, adapting to environmental challenges, and strengthening governance. Finally, life expectancy is not just a number; It is a reflection of the quality of life and the opportunities of its inhabitants. Looking to the future, it is essential that the region continues working to build a fairer, more resilient isthmus, with more social progress and economic prosperity that tells a success story in the next 200 years.