Anstieg mit Unterbrechungen

Bold claim

After the coronavirus pandemic, the media reported that a statistical indicator had taken a turn for the worse: life expectancy. Personally, I am not happy about this and am only glad that I have become part of the kink. The two world wars in the last century caused a much more significant drop in this indicator.

Maigret had gone to New York. He was retired and had a job he didn't feel up to. It's probably never a good idea to go to an environment where the weather is bad, where you don't understand people's habits and only have a very rudimentary command of their language. This immediately put the former inspector in a bad mood. What's more, for some reason he couldn't tolerate the »national drink« of the Americans - whisky - very well. And anyway: instead of beer, there was Coke.

The police worked with different rules, and in New York he was considered a friend, but also a former foreign detective. He had nothing to say. Maigret got help in the form of a sad but French-speaking private detective. This one - Roland Dexter - said words that made me pause:

»Do they really have to be very old artists? You mentioned over seventy years old. That's a very old age here. People die earlier here.«

It has already been noted at the beginning that wars have an impact on the population and therefore also on life expectancy. It is not as if war victims can simply be made invisible in the statistics. The dent is clearly visible:

 Population development France (Copyright/License: Hardouin/Demmo (CC BY-SA 3.0))

The casualty figures for France in the Second World War are given as 360,000 people. The United States suffered 407,316 casualties. Apart from the fact that the accuracy of this figure for the Americans is very surprising, it should be borne in mind that the Americans fought on more than one front. It should also be taken into account that the United States had easily 100,000,000 more inhabitants. The dent in the statistics should be much smaller due to the war casualties.

Now, many Maigret stories cannot be dated precisely. They were written in 1946, when there was no freedom of movement. Simenon himself wrote in his memoirs how costly his emigration to the USA had been. So it is very unlikely that the ex-commissioner was able to get a passage in the post-war days. Not to mention the war years …

Unfortunately, as far as life expectancy is concerned, I have only found exact figures for the period after 1946. If you look at the figures for 1946, you get the following statement:









Another graphic from the Institut National d'Études Démographiques can help. You can't see the exact figures for France, but you can get an impression of what it might have looked like before the war.

Development of life expectancy in France - Source: Institut National d'Études Démographiques

With some good will it can be seen that before the war (1939) the life expectancy of French women was 62 years, for men 57. There are also figures for the Americans, but not broken down by gender: 63.1 years is mentioned for the year. Combined, the figures were also significantly higher than those from France. 

Eighteen years earlier, the average life expectancy for women was 58 years, for men I estimate it at 52 - the data comes from the graph above. More specific figures were available for the USA, again combined: 58.2 years.

If you look even further back, to the beginning of the 20th century - that's where the figures start - life expectancy for Americans is 49.3 years. A look at the graph from the French statisticians shows that the figures are not so far apart. 

So Dexter's statement is definitely wrong. Perhaps it was based on a feeling (»In France, people eat cheese and drink red wine. That prolongs life!«) or the man wanted to make life easier for himself. However, it is more likely that only Simenon had this feeling and wrote it down.