Over the long-term, two different processes are identifiable for the development of mortality in Germany. The first distinct decline in the mortality level – beginning in the late nineteenth century – occurred primarily in infant, child and maternal mortality. While of the live births of the 1871 cohort only 62% of the boys and 65% of the girls lived to the age of 10 years, today approximately 99.5 and 99.6% respectively attain this age. Also due to the young age composition therefore, in about 1900 every second mortality was a child of less than 10 years. Today, this applies only to about every 300th death. A whole series of factors – for example medical advances and the improvement of nutrition, hygiene and living conditions – contributed to the drop in mortality of infants, children and mothers.
Mortality rates in the twentieth century were marked by two different periods. In the first half of the century, there was a major higher mortality rate among men associated with the wars, which affected the birth cohorts up to and including 1929 in particular. For example, the sex ratio of newborns in the 1920 birth cohort in Germany was 107 boys to 100 girls. Following the two world wars, in western Germany there were only 72 men to 100 women from this birth cohort, in eastern Germany the sex ratio for those born in 1920 was even 60 men to 100 women. In the second half of the twentieth century a period begins that is hardly affected by external influences such as wars, natural disasters or disease epidemics, so that the second decisive decline in mortality since the middle of the twentieth century is manifested primarily among the higher age groups.
The decline in mortality is reflected in the rise in life expectancy. While the average life expectancy at birth in 1871/1881 for boys was still 35.6 and for girls 38.5 years, today newborn boys can expect to live on average to the age of 78.2 and girls to 83.1 years. The drop in child and infant mortality had a far greater impact on the rise in life expectancy than the shift of mortality to a higher age. Hence, the further life expectancy at the age of 65 improved since 1871/1881 only by 8.1 (men) and 10.9 years (women) to today’s 17.7 years for men and 20.9 for women.