Male life expectancy in UK drops for first time in 40 years as Covid takes toll

Life expectancy for men in the UK has fallen for the first time since current records began 40 years ago because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.

A boy born between 2018 and 2020 is expected to live until he is 79 years old, down from 79.2 for the period of 2015-17, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It is the first time there has been a decline when comparing non-overlapping time periods since the research began in the early 1980s.

Estimates for females are broadly unchanged, with a girl born in 2018-20 likely to live for 82.9 years, the same as in 2015-17

Pamela Cobb, of the ONS centre for ageing and demography, said: “Life expectancy has increased in the UK over the last 40 years, albeit at a slower pace in the last decade. However, the coronavirus pandemic led to a greater number of deaths than normal in 2020.

“Consequently, in the latest estimates, we see virtually no improvement in life expectancy for women, while for men life expectancy has fallen back to levels reported for 2012 to 2014.”

Comparable data on life expectancy begins in 1980-82, when a newborn male was expected to live for 70.8 years and a female 76.8.

However, the latest figures do not mean a baby born between 2018 and 2020 will necessarily go on to have a shorter life.

“These estimates rely on the assumption that current levels of mortality, which are unusually high, will continue for the rest of someone’s life,” Cobb said.

“Once the coronavirus pandemic has ended and its consequences for future mortality are known, it is possible that life expectancy will return to an improving trend in the future.”

The new estimates also show variations between the four countries in the UK.

Life expectancy for males has fallen in England, from 79.5 years in 2015-17 to 79.3 years in 2018-2, and Scotland from 77 to 76.8.

But it has risen slightly in Northern Ireland from 78.4 to 78.7, while staying broadly unchanged in Wales at 78.3.

For females, life expectancy has dropped in Wales from 82.3 to 82.1 and Scotland from 81.1 to 81. In Northern Ireland, the figure increased slightly from 82.3 to 82.4 and remained mostly stagnant in England at 83.1.

Across England, the ONS said there were “significant reductions” in male life expectancy at birth in most regions, with falls of nearly four months in north-east England and Yorkshire/Humber and of three months in the West Midlands and north-west England.

In contrast there was an increase of just over one month for males in south-west England, impacted by the pandemic in 2020, with the region recording lower male and female Covid-19 mortality rates than other parts of the country.

South-west England also had fewer extra deaths, or “excess deaths”, than elsewhere, along with a smaller proportion of its total number of deaths that involved Covid-19.

For the female population, the biggest regional falls in life expectancy were in the West Midlands and Yorkshire/Humber. In south-west England there was a “significant increase” of four months.

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