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Life expectancy is calculated as the number of years a person is expected to survive based on the statistical average.
The starting point used to calculate life expectancy is age-specific death rates among members of the relevant population. When plenty of data are available for a population, these age-specific death rates can be calculated simply by looking at the mortality rates for a given age. However, this method does not take into account any of the random statistical fluctuations between years of age and, today, several methods are used to adjust the data for these fluctuations such as the following:
The data needed to predict life expectancy in humans is relatively easy to identify compared with acquiring the data for industrial products or wild animals, for example. For wild animals, life expectancy can often only be calculated by capturing, marking and recapturing the animals. For long-lived products such as the components used in aircrafts for example, the life expectancy is calculated based on models such as accelerated aging.
To calculate the age-specific death rates, different data groups that are believed to be associated with different mortality rates (such as smokers versus non-smokers, for example) are considered separately. The data are then used to draw up a life table or actuarial table. These tables can be used to predict how likely it is that a person of a given age will die before their next birthday. From here, several points can be calculated, including: