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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Longevity: Voting is good for you

In the UK, the Liberal Democrat party, a centre-left social liberal party, is usually considered to be more closely aligned to Labour than the Conservatives, and the formation of a coalition across this divide has caused much chin stroking and beard scratching among the politically astute. While political analysis is not really an actuarial area, we have taken a light-hearted look at how the actuarial science of longevity can help us to understand this union, by focusing on the characteristics of voters instead of pulling apart the predilections of political pundits.

Life expectancy is influenced by a range of social and economic factors and, at the extreme, the difference in average period life expectancy at birth between local government wards is currently 14.5 years. However, the life expectancy gap can be considerably greater — take the following example. Rich Mr Jones from Islington, a highly qualified professional who lives with his wife, doesn’t smoke, buys all his fruit and vegetables at the Muswell Hill farmers’ market, has a healthy body mass index and takes regular exercise, could expect to live significantly longer than poverty-stricken Mr Smith from a deprived area, who is unemployed, has no qualifications, has a high-fat diet, lives alone, smokes and is a heavy drinker of alcohol. These hypothetical extremes contrast some of the characteristics that are important drivers of life expectancy. Some are well recognised such as social class, education, wealth and lifestyle. Others are less obvious but still important, such as marital status, ethnicity, social isolation and the perceived sense of control over life events. But don’t both these lists sound like factors that would influence the way people vote, too?

Our analysis of the 2010 UK general election (excluding Northern Ireland) revealed some interesting and statistically significant features. It’s perhaps not surprising to see a strong positive correlation between the proportion of votes cast for the Conservatives in each constituency and the average life expectancy of the people who live there, nor that this trend is reversed for Labour voters — but what about the third party? Well, the observed pattern for the Liberal Democrats is remarkably close to that of the Conservative party. So while the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties are politically distinct (or were, pre-coalition), life expectancy studies suggest their supporters have more in common. Figure 1 below illustrates this pattern. Looking at the data the other way around, Figure 2 below shows the average proportion of votes received by each party in constituency quintiles, as measured by life expectancy at birth.

As we move to the right and average constituency life expectancy increases, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both win more support but the Labour party loses out. Another feature of Figure 2 that catches the eye is that there is a positive correlation between life expectancy and constituency turnout rates. In other words, the lower the constituency life expectancy, the less interested people seem to have been in voting and, perhaps, the less engaged they are with their political representatives.

Our research raises the interesting proposition that there is a link between life expectancy and tendency to vote, and that people who supported the Liberal Democrats in the 2010 election share more social and economic characteristics with Conservative supporters than with those of Labour. It will be interesting to see how the correlations between political decision making and life expectancy change following the referendum on the alternative vote.

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Catherine Love Soper and Neil Robjohns work for Barnett Waddingham LLP, and specialise in consulting on mortality and morbidity risk