The 110 years of steadily improving life expectancy in the UK are now officially over. The reasons why are a tragedy on an enormous scaleby Dorling and Gietel-Basten / January 4, 2018 / Leave a comment
Buried deep in a note towards the end of a recent bulletin published by the British government’s statistical agency was a startling revelation. On average, people in the UK are now projected to live shorter lives than previously thought.
In their projections, published in October 2017, statisticians at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that by 2041, life expectancy for women would be 86.2 years and 83.4 years for men. In both cases, that’s almost a whole year less than had been projected just two years earlier. And the statisticians said life expectancy would only continue to creep upwards in future.
As a result, and looking further ahead, a further one million earlier deaths are now projected to happen across the UK in the next 40 years by 2058. This number was not highlighted in the report. But it jumped out at us when we analysed the tables of projections published alongside it.
It means that the 110 years of steadily improving life expectancy in the UK are now officially over. The implications for this are huge and the reasons the statistics were revised is a tragedy on an enormous scale.
A rising tide of life
Life expectancy is most commonly calculated from birth. It is the average number of years a new-born baby can expect to live if the mortality rates pertaining at the time of their birth apply throughout their life.
In 1891, life expectancy for women in England and Wales was 48 years. For men it was 44. Many people lived longer than this, but so many babies died in their first year of life that, from birth, you were doing better than average if you made it past your forties. For most of the 1890s the Conservatives were in power under Lord Salisbury. They continued to support and build on public health reforms from earlier years, such as the construction of sewers and improvements to the supply of clean piped water.
Often these reforms were instigated by local government, which was able to be more proactive than it is today. Adult health improved and by 1901, on average, women lived to 52 and men 48.
The turn of the century saw the start of dramatic improvements in infant mortality as everyday sanitation became paramount…