While life expectancy is projected to improve for everybody in the coming decades, the rate of improvement varies significantly depending on where you live. Dying young is much more likely if you’re from a poor background.
The Cass analysis projects that by 2030, men in the most deprived areas of England and Wales will on average die 8.8 years earlier than those in the least deprived. For women, the gap between rich and poor will be 7.3 years – with both these lifespan inequalities worsening from their current levels.
“Early death will certainly become a rarer event, but higher mortality rates for younger ages will still be the norm in the most deprived decile in England and Wales, unless something radically changes,” the study, led by Les Mayhew, professor of statistics at Cass Business School, calculated.
However, even in wealthy areas, however, the rate of improvement in life expectancy appears to be slowing. In May, consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predicted that pension funds – which consider mortality rates when estimating future payouts – might be able to wipe £300bn off their deficits.
“In the first decade of this century, there was a clear trend for improvements in life expectancy,” Raj Mody, global head of pensions with PwC, told the Financial Times. “Pension funds have typically been assuming this trend will continue when forecasting deficits. But over the last five years, that trend has changed and there is a growing view that it is not just a blip.”
In 2012 the number of deaths per year started to rise again, peaking at 529,655 in 2015 – an unprecedented increase of more than 28,000 deaths on the previous year. This was the biggest jump in percentage terms in almost half a century. The number of deaths in 2016 was down by 0.9% year-on-year, but still represented a significant increase from 2014. A number of academics have attributed the slowdown in improvement to government spending cuts, particularly those affecting social care and the NHS.
“There is no biological reason why life expectancy in Britain should level out rather than keep on improving. The UK is still some way behind Japan, for example,” said Mayhew. “But improvement in life expectancy is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain in an economic downturn with an ageing population,” Mayhew added. “Austerity in recent years has affected the supply of social care, for example, and this may have caused mortality to rise in some instances.”