Age-specific mortality rates are a sensitive measure for the conditions of life in a population. Life tables--in Switzerland calculated approximately all ten years since 1876/80--indicate for any age and any observation period the mean life expectancy as well as the probabilities of death and survival, respectively. In the past centuries survival curves developed more and more a rectangular shape, but mortality rates didn't decrease uniformly in all age groups: until the first part of the twentieth century, increases in mean life expectancy were predominantly due to a rapid decline of infant and children's mortality; since the 1930s decreasing adults' mortality gained more importance, and not until the 1960s lower death rates in the population aged over 60 became a major component of prolonging the mean span of life. The nowadays favourable mortality situation of Switzerland within Europe started to emerge in the 1950s, predominantly due to declining mortality rates in the uppermost age groups. For the decades to come, experts predict a further substantial increase of mean life expectancy, in spite of actually rather unfavourable trends in the mortality rates of young adults. Consequently, the number of those aged over 65 and particularly those over 80 years will considerably increase till 2020, even if the scenarios of 1995 would prove to be too optimistic.