23 July 2018: Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Stanford University have developed a ‘poverty-free life expectancy’ (PFLE) metric that aims to provide a composite measure of health and economic well-being around the world. The PFLE operationalizes the link between health and economic policies, in line with the SDG agenda, and aims to encourage regular tracking and reporting on progress towards longer and better lives.

The researchers published their findings in an August 2018 Lancet Global Health study titled, ‘Measuring Health and Economic Well-being in the Sustainable Development Goals Era: Development of a Poverty-free Life Expectancy Metric and Estimates for 90 Countries.’ The authors argue that despite the inclusion of numerous targets and indicators related to health in the SDGs, most monitoring and benchmark efforts use metrics that are “highly specific to a single dimension of interest,” and therefore miss an opportunity to understand the broader implications of development policies and drivers of change in populations’ well-being. In contrast, the PFLE aims to “bring measurement out of the silos of individual sectors” to highlight the connections between health and economic consequences of public policies and the importance of multisectoral action to improve welfare and health.

The researchers developed a population-level measure of PFLE using data from 90 countries. For each country, they estimated the average number of poverty-free years an individual could expect to live if exposed to poverty prevalence and current mortality rates in that country. The researchers found an average PFLE of 66 years for women and 61.6 years for men compared to life expectancy estimates of 76.3 years for women and 71.0 years for men. In 67 out of 90 countries, the difference between PFLE and life expectancy was greater for men than women, suggesting women generally live more years in poverty than men. PFLE rates varied among countries, ranging from 9.9 years in Malawi to 83.2 years in Iceland.