Generations and life expectancy


Thanks to increased longevity and medical science, we now have five living generations on my wife’s side of the family.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, life spans were much shorter. In 1949, life expectancy for males was 65.2 and 70.7 for females. In 1915, men lived to the ripe old age, on average, of 52.5 years with women doing slightly better at 58.8 years. In 1900, just 15 years earlier, the average male could expect to live until age 46.3 and women to 48.3.

In 1860, before the nation really got into the devastation of the War Between the States, overall life expectancy was a youthful 39.4 years of age which might offer some explanation why many of those generals and upper officers in the warring parties had so much authority at such a young age. The average age of generals at war’s end was 44.8. By contrast, in 2019 overall life expectancy was 78.99 (might as well say 79) trips around the sun.

I met my surviving great-grandmother only once that I recall. I couldn’t have been more than four years old and all I recall about her is an ancient woman in a rocking chair on a front porch. To my knowledge I never met any other great-grandparents.

In fact, my maternal biological grandfather was one of those youthful casualties of an earlier age, having died in the late 1920s at the age of 24 (could have been 26) of typhoid fever and leaving behind three small daughters. So the thought of five living generations wasn’t something most people thought about.

My wife’s parents, John and Bette Douglas, are both 91 years old and headed this fall for 92. Their second generation consisted of two sons and two daughters. Branching off on to my wife’s part of the family tree, there were three sons, the third generation. The fourth generation of this branch consists of twelve great-grandchildren, three boys and nine girls. The most recent addition is Henry David Epps, age 4 weeks, part of the fifth generation.

He is a great-great-grandson of John and Bette. Five generations all on the planet, all at the same time.

My father died at the age of 69 and not quite two months. I have outlived him by a year and 3 months this far. I believe he was able to appreciate the birth of his great-granddaughter. My mother lived about six years longer and saw a bit more of the beginnings of the fourth generation. I was 20, my wife 19, when we married so that young start accompanied by longer life expectancies have contributed for my in-laws seeing the early days of the fifth generation. I pray they may see many more of this generation come to be.

About children, the Bible says:

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed…” Psalm 127:3-5a KJV

Someone once said that, “The birth of every child is evidence that God has not yet given up on the human race.” If He has not, then neither should we.

The Psalmist also said, “One generation will praise Your works to another, And will declare Your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4 NASB

It never occurred to me that I would see great-grandchildren. One thing is true — I can no longer deceive myself that I am in late middle-age! It is unlikely, statistically, that I will ever see my own fifth generation. But one never knows. And one can hope.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King ( The church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South ( He may be contacted at]