Rich-poor mortality gap is now 8 years for men, 5.8 years for women

Friday 16 February 2018

The Longevity Science Panel reveals a disturbing deterioration in living conditions

"The divergence in life expectancy between rich and poor over the past few years is a shocking example of growing social inequality in British society," says Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the School of Advanced Study and a member of the Longevity Science Panel (LSP).

Its new report, 'Life expectancy: is the socio-economic gap widening?', highlights a widening life expectancy gap between those living in England’s richest and poorest neighbourhoods.

Studying 2015 data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and comparing it with figures from 2001, the LSP report reveals that this widening gap in outcomes applies to children born today and to people already in older age. It found that a boy born in one of the country’s most affluent neighbourhoods can now expect to outlive his counterpart born in one of the least advantaged areas by 8.4 years. In 2001 that gap was 7.2 years. For girls, the difference has risen from 5 years to 5.8 years over the same period.

Moving on to older people, the LSP study reveals that in 2001 a 60-year-old man living in the most advantaged neighbourhoods could expect to live 4.1 years longer than his disadvantaged counterpart. In 2015 this figure increased to 5 years. For women of the same age the figure in 2001 was 3.1 years increasing to 4.2 years in 2015.

The LSP’s analysis also shows that of the many factors comprising the Index of Multiple Deprivation, income levels have the most powerful influence over neighbourhood death rates.

"This report demonstrates that the main factor associated with these differences is income," continues Sir Colin, who is also a renowned neuroscientist. "It’s hard to define exact causes, but it seems likely that the pressure on social services, welfare benefits and the NHS during the prolonged period of austerity is contributing to the lower life expectancy of the least well-off."

Death rates for people aged 60–89 improved for all groups between 2001 and 2015. However, the improvement was greatest for the best-off. The most advantaged fifth of older men experienced a reduction in death rates of 32 per cent, compared with 20 per cent for the least advantaged fifth. Women in this age group experienced a 29 per cent fall in death rates for the most advantaged fifth, and 11 per cent for the least advantaged fifth.

Differing improvement rates meant that by 2015, men aged 60–89 from the least advantaged fifth of the country were 80 per cent more likely to die in any given year than those from the most advantaged fifth. This figure has climbed from just over half (52 per cent) in 2001. For women the figure has almost doubled, going from 44 per cent in 2001 to 81 per cent in 2015.

Commenting on the research LSP’s chair Dame Karen Dunnell, says ‘Dying earlier if you are poor is the most unfair outcome of all. So, we should all be concerned about the growing divergence in rich-poor life expectancy. To reduce the risk of further widening, we need better understanding of the precise causes, followed by co-ordinated policy initiatives across health, work, welfare, pension and housing to improve outcomes for all.’

Read the full report