Life expectancy

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Life expectancy

In 1901 life expectancy was 45 years for men and 49 years for women. By 2012 this had increased to 79.2 years for men and 83.3 years for women (1).

This is expected to rise further by 2032 to 83.3 years (an increase of 4.1 years) for men and to 86.8 years (an increase of 3.8 years) for women. The gap between male and female is predicted to be consistent, ie, 3.7 years in 2012 and 3.6 years in 2032. Both biological and non-biological factors play a role in this difference (2).

This projection is based on the current trend. The precise extent of the increase will depend on patterns of disease and the population lifestyle. Predictions by the Office for National Statistics over the next 70 years show a possible variation of 20 years by 2085 (2).

Actual and projected period expectation of life at birth, England, 1981-2085

Life expectancy at birth is the average number of years that a person can be expected to live from birth, assuming that age-specific mortality levels remain constant.

The graph below shows historical life expectancy and projections of future expectations of life expectancy for both males and females. When modelling future projections it is important to estimate a range of scenarios, as there are several factors which have a direct effect on these numbers. In the graph, LL refers to low variant, P is principal projection and HL refers to high variant. This is a range of estimates LL being the least optimistic and HL the most optimistic scenario. Further technical details on the Office for National Statistics website.

Source: Office for National Statistics (2011). Statistical Bulletin. Mortality assumptions: 2010-based national population projections appendix A England tables, October 2011

Healthy life expectancy

Life expectancy is an estimate of average expected life span, healthy life expectancy is an estimate of the years of life that will be spent in good health. The trend for healthy life expectancy at 65 in England for males and females has increased approximately in line with overall life expectancy at 65.  For example, between 2006 and 2009, healthy life expectancy increased by 0.8 years for females and 0.5 years for males while overall life expectancy grew by 0.6 years for females and 0.7 years for males. This suggests that that the extra years of life will not necessarily be years of ill health (3).

There are important socio-demographic differences in healthy life expectancy. Not only can people from more deprived populations expect to live shorter lives, but a greater proportion of their life will be in poor health

Healthy life expectancy is the average equivalent number of years of full health that a newborn could expect to live, if he or she were to pass through life subject to the age-specific death rates and ill-health rates of a given period. The new measurement of healthy life expectancy was done to harmonise the calculation of healthy life expectancy with that of the European Union. More information on the methodology of the General Health Survey can be found on the Office for National Statistics website.

The dip in healthy life expectancy in the graphs below is a consequence of the new measurement of healthy life expectancy (explained above), and trends are still moving towards a greater period of healthy years after 65.

Male life expectancy and healthy life expectancy at 65, England, 1981-2009

Female life expectancy and healthy life expectancy at 65, England, 1981-2009

Sources: Office for National Statistics (2004). Statistical Bulletin) Health expectancies at birth and age 65 in the United Kingdom 1981–2001 and Office for National Statistics (most recent, August 2012). Statistical Bulletin. Health Expectancies in the United Kingdom 2000–2002 to 2008–2010

Health inequalities

The length and quality of people’s lives differ substantially. Some of these differences are unavoidable  (eg, genetic differences) or random (eg, accidents). However, as discussed elsewhere, factors that are amenable to change, such as socio-economic status, education and quality of one’s immediate living environment, also play a significant part, leading to large inequalities in life expectancy.

The gap in life expectancy between rich and poor persists. After some fluctuation, the gap is larger now than in the early 1970s. Men and women from the richest social class can on average expect to live more than seven years longer than those in the poorest social class (4).

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References

  1. House of Commons (1999). Research Paper 99/111
  2. Office for National Statistics (2009). Statistical Bulletin. Period expectation of life, England, 1981-2032 (uses 2008-based population projections)
  3. Office for National Statistics (2004). Statistical Bulletin. Health expectancies at birth and age 65 in the United Kingdom 1981–2001 and Office for National Statistics (most recent, August 2012). Statistical Bulletin. Health Expectancies in the United Kingdom 2000–2002 to 2008–2010
  4. Department of Health (2011). Statistical Bulletin. Life expectancy, all-age-all-cause mortality, and mortality from selected causes, overall and inequalities