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Thread: Who says that life expectancy is going up?

  1. #1

    Who says that life expectancy is going up?

    Just a thought but the other day I got hold of a spreadsheet from my company pension provider (a large private sector company with over 20,000 employees) showing the ages at death of pensioners since the early 1990's. I spent a few hours going through it and found that the average age of death hadn't changed that much (total average of nearly 4,000 deaths was 73.69). So this got me thinking and I went for a walk around the local graveyard and had a quick scan of the headstones, most seemed to have made it to their 70's, 80's and 90's even a century ago apart from quite a few cases of infant mortality (which would bring the average down). I then thought about my own family history and most had lived well into their 70's and 80's despite having fairly hard manual jobs although there were some cases of infant mortality in the 1940's.

    So based on my largely unscientific analysis I wonder if the rise in life expectancy is real or whether it's just down to removal of the infant mortality element. Of course a cynic might say that it's in the interests of governments to tell populations that life is getting better or the insurance industry to say the same to justify lower annuities.

    Anyone for a conspiracy theory?

  2. #2
    Focus on Health January 2006 summary
    Describes the health of people living in the UK across five key dimensions: health status, risk factors, ill-health, preventive, curative and long-term care services and mortality. Emphasis is placed on trends over time.

    Over the last 25 years, improvements in survival have resulted in more people living longer and an increasing proportion of deaths occurring in older ages. However, there remain substantial social and geographical variations in health status, with people who are disadvantaged in terms of their educational, employment and socio-economic background having higher rates of reported poor health and limitations in daily activities. On average, the population in England had better reported health than the other countries in the UK.

  3. #3
    Very possibly not a conspiracy theory.
    In the 1980s I was a researcher in the advertising industry. One of the major points about life expectancy then, compared to a century earlier, was indeed the reduction in infant mortality rates. More people are living longer because less people die in infancy or childhood. Infant mortality rates were so high in the late 1800s that average life expectancy was around 40 years.
    In brief, people who live to old age, live as long as they probably always did, but thanks to modern medicine, diet, housing and safety at work, more people survive into their dotage, which may also be prolonged by the same factors.
    As for the gravestones of infant deaths, the 'poor' could not have afforded a memorial stone.

  4. #4
    I was sufficiently intrigued to spend a bit of time digging around in the data. Let me preface my response by saying that I'm not a statistician, and a fuller investigation of the issue would probably take more time and subtler methods.

    Having said that the trends are fairly clear. Using <a href="">data from the Office of National Statistics</a> (<a href="">from this page</a>) which covers death rates in England and Wales, I've calculated the average age of death in each year for a) everyone b) over 5s (i.e. excluding child mortality) and c) everyone over 60:

    <img src=" ode=System__Resources__Image" />

    As you say, the decrease in child mortality has had a big impact. What I didn't realise was quite how big an impact - these next two charts show child deaths since 1961, and the dramatic fall in stillbirths as a percentage of total births:

    <img src=" ode=System__Resources__Image" />

    <img src=" ode=System__Resources__Image" />

    Which is unambiguously wonderful news. We can also see that the most common age of death (child mortality excluded - for several years in the 60s, the most common age of death for men was zero) has risen steadily. The scale doesn't do it justice but to put it in context, the most common age of death has risen from 78 in 1998 to 88 in 2008!

    <img src=" ode=System__Resources__Image" />

    Another way of looking at it is to see how the distribution of age deaths has changed over the years. It's quite hard to show using a static image but here are three snapshots - 1961, 1985 and 2008:

  5. #5
    Another consequence of this trend in reduced infant mortality is its possible impact on healthcare. Apart from the amazing technology that now keeps more babies alive it may be that these same children may have an increased need for health intervention throughout their 70-90 year lives ( on the Darwinian assumption that without medical intervention it is the 'weaker' that die young). So we not only have more elderly but a higher average need for healthcare throughout the population. Another factor (apart from the well discussed ones like more techniques, higher expectations etc) why we need to accept that healthcare costs will rise higher than normal inflation.
    Within my own family I think I see evidence of this and whilst eternally grateful for it, its societal impact must be big.

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