[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Life expectancy improvements in UK among worst in the developed world

Life expectancy improvements in England and Wales have been among the worst recorded in high-income countries since 2011, a new academic study has uncovered.

Women smoking earlier in UK ©iStock
Women smoking earlier in UK ©iStock

The findings show that only the US and Iceland had smaller life expectancy gains for men between 2011 and 2016, and that just Iceland had worse improvements for women.

Longevity increased by 0.4 years for males and 0.1 years for females in England and Wales, compared to median rises of 1 year and 0.7 years respectively in 22 other countries studied.

Scotland recorded only marginally better results than England and Wales, and joins Canada among the five worst countries for life expectancy improvements since 2011.

The researchers said that the recent slowdown in the UK is the most substantial seen for over the past 45 years, although they were unable to investigate the reasons why.

“These trends represent a real reversal of the situation in England and Wales in the 1970s and 1980s," said professor David Leon from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which carried out the research.

“Further work is urgently required to understand what the reasons are for this reversal since 2000, and how far it may be due to injuries, violence and alcohol or drug-related deaths.”

It was also found that mortality rates among men and women between the ages of 25 and 50 years in England and Wales are now 20% to 40% higher than in the other countries studied.

This increasing divergence started in the early 2000s and has gradually gathered pace over the years to 2016.

Moreover, the study found that male life expectancy improvements were average from the early 1970s up to 2010, but lagged behind most other high-income countries for women.

Although the researchers did not offer precise reasons, they said it was obvious that women smoking earlier and more intensively than in other countries was partly to blame.

“We are concerned that the configuration of economic and social forces that have enabled the advances in life expectancy seen since the 1950s are not necessarily going to remain," Leon said.

“The world is facing major challenges, from climate change to the disruption of long-established aspects of international cooperation, many of which may have a negative impact on future health progress.”

Sign up to our free newsletter here and receive a weekly roundup of news concerning the actuarial profession