Life in a violent country can be years shorter and much less predictable

The length of life in violent countries is less predictable and the life expectancy of young people can be up to 14 years shorter compared to peaceful countries, according to a new study by an international team, led by the University of Oxford and in which the Ikerbasque researcher at the UPV/EHU, Tim Riffe, has participated.

According to the research, violent deaths are responsible in a high proportion of the different level of uncertainty of the remaining life in violent and peaceful countries. The uncertainty of life refers to the dispersion in the ages of mortality; Therefore, the greater the dispersion, the greater the uncertainty. The impact of violence on mortality goes beyond shortening lives, since when lives are lost due to violence, survivors have greater uncertainty about who will be the next victim. In the words of the authors of the research, the most surprising thing about this study has been to verify that uncertainty about life has a greater association with violence than life expectancy, hence its importance for analyzing changes in mortality patterns.

Using mortality data from 162 countries and the Internal Peace Index between 2008 and 2017, the study shows that the most violent countries are also those with the greatest life uncertainty. In the case of the Middle East, it is the deaths related to the conflict at early ages that contribute the most to the perception of high uncertainty. Likewise, in Latin America a similar pattern is observed as a result of homicides and interpersonal violence. At the other extreme, we find that life uncertainty was "remarkably low" between 2008 and 2017, in most northern and southern European countries.

In high-income countries, the reduction in early mortality from cancer has played a role in reducing the uncertainty of life. However, in the most violent societies, life uncertainty is even experienced by those not directly involved in the violence. The report states that “The cycles of poverty, insecurity and violence magnify pre-existing structural patterns of disadvantage for women. In some Latin American countries, murders of women have increased in recent decades and exposure to violent environments has social and health consequences, particularly for children and women. According to the authors of the study "Although men are the main direct victims of violence, women are more likely to experience its consequences in violent contexts."

According to the report, lower life expectancy is often associated with greater life uncertainty. Furthermore, living in a violent society creates vulnerability and uncertainty, and that, in turn, can lead to more violent behaviour. Countries with high levels of violence have a lower life expectancy than more peaceful ones. A gap of about 14 years in life expectancy is estimated between the least and most violent countries. Thus, in countries like El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala or Colombia, the gap in life expectancy with high-income countries is mainly explained by the high level of mortality due to homicides.

According to the Ikerbasque researcher from the UPV/EHU, Tim Riffe, author of the study, it is important to show in a broad sense the effects that violence has on the health of the population, so that it can be considered a public health problem and, therefore, it may be susceptible to prevention programs. Violence, as a cause of death, is in principle easier to prevent than other major causes, such as cancer, and the benefits of doing so are both immediate and long-lasting. In fact, there are many examples of societies that went from one situation of high violence to one of prolonged peace.

The study is based on the use of massive data and is based, in part, on mortality estimates modeled by the Global Burden of Disease project, since many of the populations included do not have direct demographic information on mortality, since in much of the world, vital registration systems, which allow us to carry out research like this directly, have yet to be developed or require significant improvements.

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