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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Slowing advances


The slowing pace of mortality improvements observed recently for the UK general population has generated much discussion in the actuarial and political community, and even made the national headlines. It’s a trend seen elsewhere in the world too, and so in this issue we put the spotlight on these changes. 


A recent professional discussion in London considered some of the possible causes. Interestingly the recent changes in life expectancy appear to some degree correlated with government spending on health and social care. Whatever the cause, it seems pension schemes and insurers ought to review their current mortality improvement assumptions, and may wish to consider segmentation by socio-economic group, also considered during the discussion. One of the challenges for actuaries is to seek objective reasons for improvement factors rather than simply drifting into crowd behaviour.

Phil Caine and Susan Hanlon consider geographic differences too, noting that mortality improvements in Scotland consistently lag those in England and Wales. While they warn against getting overly distracted by national or regional differences, they suggest geographical factors could impact liabilities by 3% or more. 

In this month’s interview, Dr John Schoonbee also shares his perspective as chief medical officer of a global reinsurer, revealing the big ticket health issues that he is most worried about. Diabetes is one such issue. Schoonbee believes that by challenging current dietary guidelines and encouraging people to manage their own health more effectively, as a society we have an opportunity to influence diabetes incidence. Perhaps actuaries could help create new solutions that encourage customers or members to understand the risks, make more informed decisions and live healthier lifestyles? He reminds us that as actuaries, besides analysing historical trends in mortality and morbidity, we can also play a role in shaping future trends too. 

Richard Purcell

Editor, @richardpurcell