Examining the UK’s decreasing life expectancy

Recent findings reveal a concerning trend in the UK’s life expectancy, which has declined to its lowest point in a decade, as highlighted by a recent article in The Guardian (see links). The data indicates a notable decrease in longevity, primarily attributed to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics show that boys born between 2020 and 2022 now have a life expectancy of 78.6 years, a reduction of 38 weeks compared to the period between 2017 and 2019. Similarly, girls born during this timeframe can expect to live to 82.6 years, experiencing a decline of 23 weeks compared to the preceding years.

This decline in life expectancy has reverted to levels observed a decade earlier, between 2010 and 2012. During that period, boys had a life expectancy of 78.7 years, while girls could expect to live for 82.57 years. The Office for National Statistics attributes this decline primarily to the impact of the pandemic, which saw a sharp increase in excess deaths.

Despite the decrease in life expectancy figures, it is important to note that this does not necessarily mean that individuals born during or after the pandemic will live shorter lives. Mortality rates can fluctuate over time, impacting life expectancy trends. Veena Raleigh, a senior fellow at The King’s Fund, expressed concern over the data, suggesting that although life expectancy has shown some signs of recovery since the initial pandemic shock, it has not rebounded as expected. This indicates underlying issues with the nation’s health and healthcare system resilience.

She highlights the UK’s relatively high mortality rate during the pandemic and its impact on life expectancy, exacerbating existing disparities. Similarly, “Build Back Fairer: The COVID-19 Marmot Review” underscores the role of pre-existing social and economic inequalities in contributing to the high and disproportionate toll of COVID-19. Additionally, the “Health Inequalities, Lives Cut Short” report asserts that a million people in England lived shorter lives than they should between 2011 and the start of the pandemic. It would seem the decline in life expectancy cannot be solely attributed to the impact of COVID-19.

Even before the pandemic, signs of life expectancy decline were evident. The “Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On” report, published in February 2020, examined progress in addressing health disparities since the original landmark study, “Fair Society, Healthy Lives.” Professor Sir Michael Marmot’s analysis revealed stalled advancements in life expectancy, particularly among the most economically disadvantaged groups. In the poorest 10% of women, life expectancy had declined from 2010-12 and 2016-18. Moreover, disparities in health outcomes between affluent and deprived areas widened, with notable differences in life expectancy observed across regions. For instance, residing in a deprived area in the Northeast of England was associated with a nearly five-year reduction in life expectancy when compared to an area of similar deprivation in London.

Despite the challenges posed by recent events, concerted efforts in public health, healthcare access, and addressing social determinants of health can contribute to a more promising outlook for life expectancy in the UK. By prioritising health, fitness, and well-being, the nation can work towards a brighter future with improved longevity.

UK life expectancy falls to lowest level in a decade | Life expectancy | The Guardian
National life tables – life expectancy in the UK – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
What Is Happening To Life Expectancy In England? | The King’s Fund (kingsfund.org.uk)
Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On – IHE (instituteofhealthequity.org)
Build Back Fairer: The COVID-19 Marmot Review – The Health Foundation
Health inequalities, lives cut short – IHE (instituteofhealthequity.org)
What is my life expectancy? And how might it change? – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

Blog post by

Dave Lee

Dave Lee

Dave Lee is the co-founder of Amac, he continues to write and produce all our courses and you might even find him teaching you.

View Profile