Updated Aug 5, 2018

Children worldwide are less likely to die young than ever before

Children throughout the world are more likely than ever to live to their teenage years, with a record-low number of deaths in the 0-14 age group since at least 1990, according to an analysis by Our World in Data of numbers from the Global Health Data Exchange.

The big picture: People are increasingly expected to live into their 70s, and as kids are more likely to survive, generally "the parents have less children," Keith Klugman, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's pneumonia program, told Axios. "It’s been one of the biggest drivers of demographic change."

The backstory: Nearly 30 years ago, there were more deaths for children under 15 years old than for people in the 15-49 and 50-69 categories. But due to the increased education of women, falling poverty rates and better access to health care and vaccines, young deaths have become more preventable, according to Klugman.

  • The most vulnerable children are those under age 5, and mortality rates have significantly dropped in that age group — from 93 deaths per 1,000 in 1990 to 41 in 2016, according to the World Health Organization.
  • That rate in Africa, however, remains relatively high, with 80 deaths under age 5 per 1,000 in 2015, according to a UN report from last year.
  • Only 25% of deaths in Africa were for people age 65 or older that year.

But things are worst in places with serious conflict happening on the ground, highlighting why life expectancy in Syria has dramatically fallen over the past few years.

Although it is true that in general kids die more commonly in poorer countries than richer countries, the worse places are those that are really involved in external or internal wars at the moment.
— Keith Klugman

The biggest single cause of death for the youngest children in the world is pneumonia, according to Klugman, who works with the Gates Foundation to make vaccines more accessible in poor areas of the world.

  • 45% of deaths under age 5 occur shortly after or during birth, and about half are at least partially due to malnutrition, according to WHO.
  • The ripple effect: Pneumonia is also a leading cause of death for the elderly, Klugman said. By immunizing enough children, the older population is, in turn, better protected from the disease.

The other side: As Axios has reported, more old people and fewer kids comes with its own set of problems, including the economic burden of supporting more retired people with fewer workers.

Go deeper: The aging, childless future.

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