Studies show UK life expectancy slows after financial crisis


The increase in life expectancy in the UK and elsewhere had slowed even before 2016 – and COVID-19 is expected to further eliminate any gain, according to studies from Newcastle University.

After 2011, in the post-financial crisis period, the authors find that the UK performed poorly, in almost all measures, compared to the 28 countries of the European Union (EU28).

Life expectancy at birth and at age 65 in the UK was increasing rapidly in 2008, but slowed down around 2011 and Germany, Portugal and France showed signs of a similar slowdown.

In addition, the healthy years, known as healthy life years, at birth in the UK have decreased, while they have increased in most EU28 countries. The UK has seen a period of absolute expansion in unhealthy living among older men and women.

The authors, led by Dr Claire Welsh of Newcastle University, suggest that the reasons for the drop may include cuts in public spending on health and social protection in the event of austerity, increased death rates due to seasonal influenza combined with more frequent extremes of temperature, a greater proportion of the population in the “sensitive” group of the elderly and frail and a higher death rate among the working-age population.

Given that other EU countries have already achieved a higher life expectancy than the UK, it seems unlikely that the deceleration in UK is due to being close to lifespan natural maximum of human beings. This suggests that our health and welfare system was under strain even before the effects of COVID-19. “

Dr Claire Welsh, University of Newcastle

Slowing life expectancy in the UK

In 2008, life expectancy at birth was highest among French women (84.8 years) and Swedes (79.2 years). The countries with the lowest life expectancy at birth were Lithuania and Bulgaria (for males, 65.9 years and females, 77.0 years, respectively).

In 2016, the highest life expectancy for men was recorded in Italy (81.0 years) and for women in Spain (86.3 years) and the lowest in Lithuania and Bulgaria (for men 69.1 years and women 78.5 years, respectively).

Life expectancy at birth in the UK in 2008 was the seventeenth highest for women (81.8 years) and tenth highest for men (77.7 years) and the UK Uni remained tenth and seventeenth higher for life expectancy at birth in 2016 for men (79.4 years) and women (83.0 years), respectively. However, modeling suggests that the growth in life expectancy slowed considerably around 2011 for British men and women.

Modeling also suggested that the increase in life expectancy for UK men at 65 slowed considerably around 2011. In 2008, the UK had the eighth highest life expectancy at 65 for men ( 17.6 years) and the sixteenth highest for women (20.2 years), but by 2016 both had fallen by one place (women, seventeenth at 21.1 years, men in ninth with 18.8 years).

Another recently published study from the University of Newcastle using Cognitive Function and Aging Studies I and II found that inequalities in disability-free life expectancy between the most and least advantaged older people increased between 1991 and 2011. For the most advantaged men and women, all gains in life expectancy at age 65 between 1991 and 2011 were years without disability. In contrast, the least advantaged women experienced a small increase in their life expectancy or disability-free life expectancy. COVID-19 is expected to only increase these spreads.


Journal reference:

Welsh, CE, et al. (2021) Trends in life expectancy and healthy years of life at birth and at age 65 in the UK, 2008-2016, and other EU28 countries: a cross-sectional observational study. Lancet Regional Health – Europe.


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