Upward trends in longevity started as least as early as the 16th century in some parts of the world, and earlier elsewhere. In England, it is thought that an intertwined slow growth in life expectancy and economic productivity over hundreds of years laid the foundations for the Industrial Revolution. People who expect to live longer are better stewards of long-term capital investment, and even small gains year over year compound over time to become large. Greater wealth in turn gives rise to the byproduct of technological progress, including that relating to medicine and public health. This results in a virtuous cycle of accelerating gains in wealth, health, technological prowess, and longevity.
Today’s research materials are a novel view of the earlier trends in life expectancy over the last few hundred years, based on data for European scholars. One interesting observation is that groups of higher socioeconomic status exhibited the slow historical gains in life expectancy earlier than was the case for the broader population. Control of infectious disease has been a major driver of improved life expectancy. Prior to the advent of 20th century medical technologies such as antibiotics, that control largely involved public health measures such
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