Costa Rica is home to 4.98 million people, with the second-highest per capita income in Central America, after Panama. Innovative initiatives like CCSS, a national health care system, not supporting a military since 1949, relying heavily on renewable energy and preserving natural land sets the country apart. Costa Rica’s spends almost 20 percent of GDP on social programs in an effort to meet their goals established in the 1970s of universal education, health care, clean water, sanitation and electricity.
The consistent political stability also distinguishes Costa Rica from neighbors in Central America. This context has produced measurable growth in health outcomes and reduced mortality. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Costa Rica highlight the impacts of Costa Rica’s policies.
10 Facts about Life Expectancy in Costa Rica
- On average, life expectancy is slightly greater for Costa Ricans (79.8 years) than for U.S. citizens (78.6 years). In addition, Costa Rica ranks 29th in terms of longevity in the world.
- In Costa Rica, women live longer than men. According to WHO data published in 2018, Costa Rican men live on average to 77, while women on average to 82.2. Costa Rican women edge out men in terms of lung cancer and heart disease mortality but are at greater risk of stroke, external injuries and chronic respiratory diseases.
- Infant mortality has fallen since the 1960s. “Primary health care—especially in rural and community programs — seems to be responsible for 40 percent of the reduction…” from 68/1,000 to 20/1.000 in the 1970s to 5.7/1,000 in 2018.
- The top 10 causes of death in Costa Rica mirror wealthier countries. These are as follows:
- Cancer – 20 percent
- Heart Disease – 16 percent
- Stroke – 7 percent
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – 5 percent
- Chronic Kidney Disease – 4 percent
- Road Injuries – 4 percent
- Cirrhosis – 4 percent
- Lower Respiratory Infections – 3 percent
- Diabetes -3 percent
- Interpersonal Violence – 2 percent
- Road traffic fatalities are an epidemic in Costa Rica. According to 2017 WHO data, 13.9 per thousand people die in traffic accidents. Epidemiological data suggests that younger drivers, faster roads, motorcycle lane changing and the growing pains that occur as rural people struggle to walk to work and school on faster, newly-paved roads—are all contributing factors. Although international NGO’s concerned with road safety recommend systemic approach uniting business, education and policy approaches, Costa Rica is working toward greater road safety with policies like requiring reflective tape on garments and state-sponsored vehicle insurance.
- Increases in life expectancy at birth between 1990 and 2015 grew, but unevenly across the 79 counties. Socioeconomic growth and decreasing fertility have contributed to increasing life expectancy. Average births per mother have fallen from about seven in the 1960s to 3.5 in the early 1980s to below replacement level (2) today. Access to medical care varies from rural to urban locations.
- Physicians are fairly accessible in Costa Rica with 1.15 physicians per thousand people—among the highest in Central America. Only Panama (1.59) and El Salvador (1.92) have higher ratios. The overall high-quality medical infrastructure in Costa Rica has birthed a growing, medical tourism industry, providing more low- and high-skilled jobs.
- Caja Costarrisence Seguro Social (CCSS) is the national health care agency. Funded by a 15 percent payroll tax, luxury goods taxes and retirement savings, the CCSS mandates free health service to all categories of citizens: wage-earners, mothers, children, indigenous people, the elderly and people living with disabilities, regardless of insurance coverage.
- Incidents of parasite-borne diseases like Malaria Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Virus, Chagas Disease and Zika rise seasonally but generally are on the decline. Vaccinations, insect eradication programs and education in how to avoid getting sick are working to stem the growth of arboviruses. The International Emerging Infections Program in Central America and Panama (IEIP-CAR) begun a program in 2007 to respond to new infectious disease threats by supporting the Ministries of Health (MoHs). Communicable-disease mortality declined from 65 per 100,000 in 1990 to 4.2 per 100,000 in 2010.
- The Nicoya Peninsula in western Costa Rica boasts some of the highest life expectancy rates for men in the world. “For a 60-year-old Nicoyan male, the probability of becoming centenarian is seven times that of a Japanese male, and his life expectancy is 2.2 years greater.” This advantage is not the case for women. Lower levels of cardiovascular risk, being lean and tall, eating an abundant diet of traditional foods low in the glycemic index but high in fiber and accessible health care are all possible contributing factors.
These 10 facts about life expectancy in Costa Rica paint the government as a nimble in its ability to enact policies that meet needs and consistently build better health outcomes for their people.
– Heather Hughes