Life expectancy progress in UK ‘stops for first time’

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Life expectancy in the UK has stopped improving for the first time since 1982 when figures began.

Women’s life expectancy from birth remains 82.9 years, and for men it is 79.2, the figures from the Office for National Statistics for 2015-17 show.

In some parts of the UK life expectancy has even decreased.

For men and women in Scotland and Wales it declined by more than a month, while men in Northern Ireland have seen a similar fall.

For women in Northern Ireland, and for men and women in England, life expectancy at birth is unchanged.

The data also shows that the UK lags other leading countries for life expectancy, including Switzerland, Japan, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

Of the countries the ONS compared the UK to, Switzerland was the nation with the longest life expectancy for men, while for women it is Japan.

Men in Switzerland are expected to live to 81.5 years, while women in Japan are predicted to live to 87.


Analysis

By Robert Cuffe, BBC News head of statistics

How sure can we be that you’ll live as long as the ONS predicts?

Not very: the ONS are not making precise predictions about what will happen in the future to determine how long you live.

Medical breakthroughs, pandemics and the wars of the next 80 years are impossible to predict.

Rather, they ask what would happen if you experienced today’s death rates every year for the rest of your life.

So these data are really telling us about death rates in the UK for the last three years.

And we can be sure that picture in death rates is real.

Since the 1980s, life expectancy has been going up by roughly two months a year every year, as we saw fewer deaths due to smoking or heart problems.

But after 2011, that rate of improvement has been slowing.

It could be because it’s hard to keep on improving every year. It could be because of hard winters, or difficult flu seasons. But we’re not sure about exactly what has caused this trend.


What’s happening

Throughout the 20th century, the UK experienced steady improvements in life expectancy at birth, resulting in a larger and older population.

This has been attributed to healthier lifestyles among the population as it ages, such as reduced smoking rates and improvements in treating infectious illnesses and conditions such as heart disease.

But in recent years the progress has slowed, and in the latest data it has ground to a halt.

The ONS said the period from 2015 to 2017 had seen particularly high numbers of deaths in the UK compared with previous years.

This coincided with a bad flu season and excess winter deaths.

The population of people who are 90 or over is still increasing, but this is due to previous improvements in life expectancy going back many decades.

The number of centenarians decreased slightly between 2016 and 2017, reflecting low numbers of births during World War One.

But the ONS said it is expected to continue to increase again from 2019.