Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Life Expectancy

A little bit of a mini rant here.

When people here about the lower life expectancies in the past, they tend to think that everyone died off by fifty. I have even heard women say that menopause is not natural and only occurs because we are 'living too long'.

Here's the truth...and this is important for fantasy writers to consider.

IF you survived early childhood, IF there was not a plague and IF you did not fall off a horse or experience some similar fatal accident, then you had a good chance of living to at least seventy. Most advances in geriatric medicine improve the quality of life for the elderly and somewhat increase the chances of somebody who reaches seventy making it to ninety or even a hundred.

It's not unrealistic to have a guy who's a hundred in your fantasy novel. It would be rare and it would be remarked upon, but it would happen.

Here's another thing to consider. In ancient Egypt the life expectancy of peasants was actually longer than that of the upper classes. Why? Because the upper classes were too well fed. The pharoah Hatshepsut most likely died of complications of diabetes. Something else to consider when world-building. Do your priests get too much rich food making them all fat? It's an odd reversal of today's society, where obesity is more common amongst poor people, caused by poor quality food and lack of free time to exercise.

Obviously, you also need to consider the medical technology available...and with magic, you can do all kinds of weird things.

But no. Everyone was not dead by fifty in any human society we know of. That simply did not happen. The statistics tell very little of the story.