Increasing longevity is occurring in both developed and developing nations. However, in the most developed nations it is unlikely that longevity will continue to increase much beyond the achieved level, while in the developing nations it is happening at an accelerated rate. Longer life expectancy comes about initially as a result of public health measures such as the provision of clean drinking water, more sophisticated sewage systems, improved housing, and the adoption of basic hygiene behaviour, and is reflected in the reduction of infant mortality and other premature deaths. Improvements in access to and new developments in health care make a subsequent impact on survival rates. As a result, in the developed countries most people can expect to live into old age.
It is unlikely that average life expectancy will exceed 85 to 90 years. Continued growth in life expectancy is not inevitable. Poor people have lower life expectancies than better-off people in all countries. Life expectancy in several East European countries has dropped since the events of the early 1990s and the impact of AIDS in Africa is reducing average life expectancy.
In the United Kingdom, approximately 17 per cent of the population are over retirement age; however, this is higher in some regions than others. It is particularly high along south and west coasts, in East Anglia, and in seaside and rural areas of natural beauty, where it can be 33 per cent or higher. However, within rural areas, the older population tends to be concentrated in small towns and larger villages, and may be lower than average in the most isolated areas. The overall proportion of older people, however, is higher in rural areas in most countries, and this is particularly marked in the developing world where the young migrate to the cities for work.
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For centuries, ever since the legendary Ponce de Leon went searching for the elusive Fountain of Youth, people have been looking for ways to slow down the aging process. Medical science has made great strides in keeping people alive longer by preventing and curing disease, and helping people to live healthier lives. Average life expectancy keeps increasing, and most of us can look forward to the chance to live much longer lives than our ancestors.