Life Expectancy in England is Stalling

Life expectancy has been steadily increasing since 1900, but this trend seems to be stalling, according to the recent Marmot Review of Health Equity.

You can clearly see the slow down in the increase in Life Expectancy for males and females in England in the two graphs below.

For both males and females the graph above shows a clear increasing trend from 2001 to around 2011, and then a much flatter trend from 2011 to 2017.

The above two graphs also highlight the clear correlation between deprivation and life expectancy, with the least deprived (or wealthiest) quintile of males and females enjoying around 6-8 more years of life than the most deprived (or poorest) quintile.

You can’t see it from the above graphs, but the poorest decile (the poorest tenth) of women actually experienced a slight decline in life expectancy in recent years. That is to say the very poorest women now die younger.

Declining healthy life expectancy

The report also highlights a small decline in healthy life expectancy, which I personally think is important to consider, given that it’s much more desirable to live a longer life in good health, compared to a longer life in poor health!

How do we explain the stalling of life expectancy?

The Marmot report says that an increase in deaths from winter illnesses such as flu in recent years can only explain about 20% of the decline in life expectancy.

The report also highlights funding cuts to health and social services as something which has ‘undermined the ability of local authorities to improve the social determinants of health’.

NB – note that the wording of the above is very careful, the report doesn’t say that funding cuts have caused a decrease in the rate of improvement of life expectancy, probably because the report doesn’t have sufficient data to infer a significant enough correlation between funding cuts and life expectancy trends.

So while the trends may be objective, we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions about why life expectancy is stalling!

One thing we can say is that inequality clearly hasn’t improved in the last 20 years, if we use differences as life expectancy as an indicator of this!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is useful as an update to explaining trends in the death rate!