The Problem With Life Expectancy

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In order to truly understand differences among animal lifespans, we need to stop thinking about a specific number and start thinking about a distribution.

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To learn more about this topic, start your googling with these keywords:
Life Expectancy At Birth: The average number of years a newborn in a particular group could expect to live.
Life Expectancy After Babyhood: The average number of years a member of a particular group could expect to live given that they had survived their first year.
Maximum Life Expectancy: The age at which the oldest known member of a particular group died.
Mortality Rate: The frequency of occurrence of death within a particular group during a particular time period.
Life Table: A table that shows the number of individuals within a group that survive from one year to the next until they are all dead.
Survivorship Curve: A plot of the data in a particular life table that shows the years on the x-axis and the number or percent of survivors on the y-axis.

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David Goldenberg | Script Writer, Narrator and Director
Sarah Berman | Illustration, Video Editing and Animation
Nathaniel Schroeder | Music

MinuteEarth is produced by Neptune Studios LLC

Sarah Berman • Arcadi Garcia Rius
David Goldenberg • Julián Gustavo Gómez
Melissa Hayes • Alex Reich • Henry Reich
Peter Reich • Ever Salazar • Kate Yoshida

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Ortiz-Ospina, E. (2017). “Life Expectancy” – What does this actually mean?. Our World In Data. Retrieved from:

Brown JS, Cunningham JJ, Gatenby RA. 2015 The multiple facets of Peto’s paradox: a life-history model for the evolution of cancer suppression. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 370: 20140221. Retrieved from:

Barbieri, M. (2021). Personal Communication. UC Berkeley Department of Demography. Retrieved from:

United Nations. 2019 Revision of World Population Prospects. Retrieved from:

Khan Academy. Life Tables, Survivorship Curves, and Age-Sex Structure. Retrieved from:

Deevey, E. (1934). Life Tables for Natural Populations of Animals. The Quarterly Review of Biology. 22(4): 283-314. Retrieved from: