Living long and prospering?

23rd Mar 2018


Life expectancy is going down.


Life expectancy isn’t falling overall, but its rate of increase has slowed down in recent years. In some local areas life expectancy has decreased in the last few years, although we can’t be sure all these local estimates are showing genuine changes.


People are getting poorer.


Looking at the overall population of the UK this is incorrect. Over the last 50 years people have been getting richer. But if you look at specific groups the picture changes. Young people in their 30s today have around half the household wealth of those born a decade earlier at the same age.

Claim 1 of 2

“And now people are getting poorer, life expectancy is going down, and we’re not going to be as rich as our parents.”

Paris Lees, 22 March 2018

Over the last 50 years, people in the UK have become richer in general. Fewer people are earning low incomes and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says there has been a gradual decline in income inequality over the last decade.

There are lots of ways to measure whether people are getting richer or poorer—income and household wealth are just some of the ways we can calculate this. We can also get a different picture depending on which groups of people we look at and when in their lives.

The average net household wealth of someone in their early 30s (and born in the early 1980s) is £27,000, according to analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That’s around half of what those born in the early 1970s had at the same sort of age (£53,000).

These figures are using a median average meaning half had less than that figure, and half had more. This figure includes housing, financial, and private pension wealth.

The IFS also says that people born in the early 1980s were the first post-war generation not to earn higher salaries in early adulthood than those born in the decade before them. They also have lower rates of home ownership and spend more of their income on housing costs, particularly rents. It also says that “It looks like those born in the early 1980s are likely to find it harder than their predecessors to build up wealth in housing and pensions as they age.”

Life expectancy isn’t falling overall, but its rate of increase has slowed down in recent years.

At the moment, estimates suggest a newborn baby boy in the UK can expect to live to about 89 and a half years old, and a girl to just over 92.

Life expectancy has also been growing for more than a century. But in recent years, the ONS says the rate of increase is slowing down. It explains some of the possible reasons:

“Infant and child mortality rates are now at such low levels that it’s unlikely that further reductions will affect future life expectancy. Additionally, it is possible that other factors like medical advances, which have historically driven life expectancy improvements, may also stop having so much of an effect.”

The ONS also said that between 2011 to 2013 and 2014 to 2016 the improvements in another measure of life expectancy were the smallest seen in the 21st century.

At the same time, we don’t yet know if any of this is part of a new trend or just a blip, and can only speculate on how medicine and lifestyles might change over the century ahead.

The Marmot report from the UCL Institute of Health Equity based on those ONS national life tables found that improvements in life expectancy from birth had slowed from a year increase every five years to a year increase every decade for women since 2010, and for men, a year increase every three and a half years to every six years.

But these changes haven’t been the same everywhere in the UK.

In areas like Hartlepool, between 2011 to 2013 and 2014 to 2016 life expectancy at birth has fallen. In that area life expectancy for newborn boys dropped by 1.2 years.

In response to a written question in January of this year, the National Statistician John Pullinger told Chris Ruane MP that almost 20% of local authorities in the UK had experienced a decline in life expectancy between 2009 to 2011 and 2014 to 2016 for females at birth, and just over 8% saw declines for males.

But he added that life expectancy estimates for the 389 local areas do tend to fluctuate year on year, and because the decreases and populations are small we can’t tell whether these changes represent what’s really happening.

This fact check is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.