Life expectancy for men in the UK has declined for the first time in four decades, owing to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures reveal.
According to ONS, a boy born between 2018 and 2020 is expected to live until he is 79 years old, down from 79.2 years for the period of 2015-2017. From the records, this marks the first decline when comparing non-overlapping time periods since the 1980s.
Female life expectancy broadly remain unchanged, pegged at 82.9 between 2018 and 2020, the same as in 2015-2017.
Pamela Cobb, statistician with the ONS centre for ageing and demography, asserted: “Life expectancy has increased in the UK over the last 40 years, albeit at a slower pace in the past decade. However, the coronavirus pandemic led to a greater number of deaths than normal in 2020.
“Consequently, in the latest estimates, we see virtually no improvement in life expectancy for women, while for men life expectancy has fallen back to levels reported for 2012 to 2014.”
Despite the decline in life expectancy, it yields no implication that a baby born between 2018 and 2020 will necessarily go on to have shorter life.
“These estimates rely on the assumption that current levels of mortality, which are unusually high, will continue for the rest of someone’s life,” Cobb noted.
“Once the coronavirus pandemic has ended and its consequences for future mortality are known, it is possible that life expectancy will return to an improving trend in the future.”Pamela Cobb
Life expectancy to return improve after pandemic is over
According to an Oxford University research, the fall in life expectancy is not peculiar to the UK but also Europe and the USA saw similar figures. Yet, this is not on the same scale compared with periods since World War II.
Comparing figures for the four countries in the UK, life expectancy for males has fallen in England, from 79.5 years in 2015-2017 to 79.3 years in 2018-2020, and Scotland from 77 to 76.8 years.
But for Northern Ireland, the figure rose from 78.4 to 78.7, while remaining unchanged in Wales at 78.3.
For females, life expectancy has dropped in Wales from 82.3 to 82.1 and Scotland from 81.1 to 81. In Northern Ireland, the figure increased slightly from 82.3 to 82.4 and remained mostly stagnant in England at 83.1.
Across England, the ONS said there were “significant reductions” in male life expectancy at birth in most regions, with falls of nearly four months in north-east England and Yorkshire/Humber and of three months in the West Midlands and north-west England.
For the female population, the biggest regional falls in life expectancy were in the West Midlands and Yorkshire/Humber.
ONS statistician Pamela Cobb indicates that after the pandemic is over and “its consequences for future mortality are known, it is possible that life expectancy will return to an improving trend in the future”.
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