History

Infographic: Life expectancy in South Africa from 1960 to 2015

Charting South Africans’ life expectancy is to track the country’s modern history. In 1960, when the state was grimly implementing apartheid laws, an average newborn child was expected to have a lifespan of only 52 years – 50 years for boys.  In 2015, life expectancy was 62 years.

Line graph showing the life expectancy of South Africans from 1960 to 2016. Total life expectancy in 1960 was 52 years; in 2015 it was 62 years.
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In between, life expectancy has risen and fallen. The most severe drop was during the crisis of the HIV and Aids epidemic, from 1995 to 2005. In 2005, life expectancy was the same as it had been in 1960.

After antiretroviral medication to treat HIV became available in all state hospitals and clinics in 2005, life expectancy rose again until, in 2015, is was where it had been in 1994.

Read more: HIV and Aids in South Africa

Other periods of our history can also be recognised.

The economic growth of the 1960s and early 1970s, spurred by South Africa’s mineral wealth, created many more jobs – and people could expect to live longer. But from the 1970s life expectancy began to level out. The country’s economy was hit hard by the 1974 oil crisis, and continued to stagnate through the 1980s. South Africa was increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, and the cracks of an inherently inefficient economy designed to exclude the majority began to show.

The 1980s were also a time of violence, when the country came dangerously close to civil war.

Life expectancy rose again in the late 1980s, when apartheid was slowly reformed, and early 1990s, after apartheid was finally abandoned.

Read more: South Africa’s population

What is life expectancy?

Life expectancy at birth indicates the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout its life.

Life expectancy in 1960

Total life expectancy: 52 years
Male life expectancy: 50 years
Female life expectancy: 54 years

Life expectancy in 1965

Total life expectancy: 54 years
Male life expectancy: 52 years
Female life expectancy: 56 years

Life expectancy in 1970

Total life expectancy: 56 years
Male life expectancy: 53 years
Female life expectancy: 59 years

Life expectancy in 1975

Total life expectancy: 57 years
Male life expectancy: 54 years
Female life expectancy: 61 years

Life expectancy in 1980

Total life expectancy: 58 years
Male life expectancy: 54 years
Female life expectancy: 61 years

Life expectancy in 1985

Total life expectancy: 60 years
Male life expectancy: 56 years
Female life expectancy: 63 years

Life expectancy in 1990

Total life expectancy: 62 years
Male life expectancy: 58 years
Female life expectancy: 66 years

Life expectancy in 1995

Total life expectancy: 61 years
Male life expectancy: 58 years
Female life expectancy: 65 years

Life expectancy in 2000

Total life expectancy: 56 years
Male life expectancy: 53 years
Female life expectancy: 60 years

Life expectancy in 2005

Total life expectancy: 53 years
Male life expectancy: 50 years
Female life expectancy: 55 years

Life expectancy in 2010

Total life expectancy: 56 years
Male life expectancy: 53 years
Female life expectancy: 59 years

Life expectancy in 2015

Total life expectancy: 62 years
Male life expectancy: 58 years
Female life expectancy: 66 years

Researched, written and designed by Mary Alexander.
Updated 11 April 2018.
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