Has life expectancy stalled?

You may have noticed in the news lately that the increases in life expectancy are ‘grinding to a halt’ in the UK. The Office for National Statistics in England and Wales has reported that improvements in life expectancy between 2015 and 2017 have stalled. The graph below shows the trend in life expectancy since 1838 showing there has been a consistent rise since the 1880s.

Source: ONS “Period expectation of life (ex) by single year of age – from English Life Tables No.s 1 to 17”. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/lifeexpectancies/datasets/2englishlifetables

Crystallise analyses weekly mortality data for England and Wales and drew the same conclusion in the winter of 2017-18 that mortality rates were not improving and possibly increasing. Below left is the combined male and female central mortality rates for 65-year-olds as of the 8th of May 2018. The globally smoothed trend was clearly rising in early 2017.

8th May 2018

2nd October 2018

However, if we look at the most recent plot from the 2nd October 2018  (above right) we get a different picture. This should not be surprising given the influence of the most recent data on the trend. But what we can see is that the trend between 2014 and the beginning of 2017 is flat.

Of more concern is the mortality rates in 84-year-olds, where there is a clear trend for rising mortality between 2014 and 2017 as shown below.

8th May 2018

2nd October 2018

Plotting the trend retrospectively at intervals demonstrates how sensitive the trend is to recent data, especially in the very elderly.

In conclusion, we can be confident that between 2014 and 2017, there was barely, if any, improvement in central mortality for 65-year-olds, and possibly some increase in 84-year-olds. However, it is too early to conclude on the trend since 2017.

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